Sunday, October 13, 2013
Kenyan and Western security services are racing against time to
foil new planned terror attacks in Kenya barely three weeks after the
Much of the investigations are now
focused on the underground activities of a shadowy militant organisation
called Al-Hijra, led by Sheikh Iman Ali, a Kenyan preacher now hosted
by al-Shabaab in Somalia.
And at the centre of the
Westgate attack and potential future plots is a Kenyan militant jihadist
leader who goes by the name Ikrima.
Reports on the new
plots are scanty and generic in nature, but information obtained by the
Sunday Nation from credible security sources suggests that Mombasa,
Wilson Airport and schools – especially those with a large foreign
student population – are potential targets.
believed the reports are being treated with seriousness by the Kenyan
security services and their foreign partners, but there is concern not
to create panic and a determination to work in concert to disrupt the
“We in the EU are aware of the threats
posed by Al-Hijra and its affiliates. The new plots are grave and
warrant a lot of attention, but we have no intention at this stage to
elevate them into a full-blown travel alert. We are sensitive to Kenya
and its economic needs and we are all working together to foil possible
future attacks,” a senior European diplomat told the Sunday Nation.
new terror threats are putting additional strains on Kenya’s security
services, now reeling from the unprecedented public criticism of their
handling of Westgate and the widely-perceived systemic failures and
lapses that allowed the attack to take place.
That al-Shabaab and its local associates could be planning a Westgate “follow-up” attack comes as no surprise to analysts.
suggest the Westgate model may now be the preferred modus operandi of
the terrorist groups, but more disconcerting, it is easy to replicate.
say Westgate was not a fluke – it is a demonstration of “tactical
versatility” and determination to use “low-tech” means to pull off
“Westgate was a complex operation
that was carried out with low-tech means and certainly much more
difficult to detect or disrupt than the iconic suicide bomber. It is
also much easier to replicate,” Matt Bryden, a regional analyst and
director of Sahan Research, told the Sunday Nation.
warnings of potential new attacks in Kenya coincide with reports this
week of a major security alert in Mogadishu and claims al-Shabaab is in
the final stages of carrying out a major attack on the Mogadishu
International Airport using Westgate-style tactics.
target is believed to be a new facility within the airport compound
that belongs to the European Training Mission (EUTM) – a European
initiative to train Somali army and security forces.
this year, al-Shabaab carried out a deadly attack on the UN compound
located at the airport, killing and wounding scores.
source says the new airport attack warning has triggered a row within
the UN and EU systems over how to designate the threat level, with
security teams favouring a code-red alert designation, but senior
political officials disinclined to approve this – in part because that
would necessitate mass evacuation and run counter to the new “Somalia
Beyond this specific alert,
however, there is little doubt that the security situation in Mogadishu
has dramatically deteriorated in the last nine months, and the number of
bomb attacks and targeted killings by al-Shabaab have escalated to
The resurgence of attacks in
Mogadishu and the Westgate killings are fuelling speculation that
al-Shabaab and its al-Qaeda associates in the region may have received a
new injection of resources and expertise from al-Qaeda and its foreign
“The new attacks are not “acts of
desperation” as our politicians love saying. They are indications of a
new lease of life – a fresh input of supplies, men and resources,” a
former Somali security official said in a telephone interview from
Westgate and the new terror threat ought to
illustrate the region-wide dimension and the need for close border
co-operation among security services, the source emphasised.
us not delude ourselves. The terror threat in Somalia and East Africa
is huge and mounting. It is now cross-border and transnational.”
security analyst Captain (rtd) Simiyu Werunga echoes the sentiments and
says the security forces are making “good progress” in arresting
members of the terror cells now active in much of East Africa.
have been extensive arrests in Kenya, on the border with Somalia, and
even as far as Uganda and Tanzania. I believe good progress is being
made. But we must complement these measures by strengthening our
capacity; improving our intelligence gathering and law enforcement
systems and improving co-operation with the public.”
Meanwhile, the security services are believed to be brainstorming on the lessons learnt from Westgate and the way forward.
Bryden, the regional analyst, says the biggest lesson ought to be the
recognition of the home-grown jihadi threat posed by militant groups
such as Al-Hijra, adding that effective prosecution of members is the
best means to contain them.
“Al-Hijra has been under
surveillance for a number of years and the Kenyan state has accumulated
enough intelligence on its ideological leaders to disrupt the movement.
For some reasons, there is reluctance to provide classified intelligence
to the law enforcement agencies for effective prosecutions. And this
ought to change.”
There is now consensus among security
experts that Al-Hijra and its growing linkages with al-Shabaab and the
foreign jihadist network is the top-most single national security threat
facing Kenya. The onus is now on the authorities to move effectively
against the group using legal means, they say.