Kenya Seen Facing Escalated Threat of Attacks by Islamists
Kenya may face intensified attacks by Islamist militants and protests from Muslim groups after the murder of a prominent Kenyan cleric, according to analysts including the security company, AKE Group.
Kenya has been hit by increasing bombings since sending its troops into neighboring Somalia in October 2011 to fight al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militants, who are trying to overthrow the United Nations-backed government and impose Shariah, or Islamic law. The government has deployed more security forces in the port city of Mombasa after Sheikh Abubaker Shariff, an Islamist leader known as Makaburi who was accused by the UN of recruiting Somali militants, was shot dead on April 1.
“We are expecting further small-scale attacks and attempted bombings in Nairobi and Mombasaand in smaller towns closer to the Somali border, including Garissa, over the coming weeks,” Alasdair Reid, sub-Saharan Africa analyst with London-based AKE, said in an e-mailed note yesterday. “We could also see a more major terrorist attack.”
At least 67 people were killed in September when al-Shabaab-linked gunmen stormed Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, saying the attack was in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia. President Uhuru Kenyatta has said the country won’t be intimidated into withdrawing its soldiers.
“Kenya’s interests in Somalia go beyond defeating al-Shabaab,” Hannah Waddilove, an Africa analyst with Oxford Analytica, said yesterday in an e-mailed reply to questions. “To fully secure its border area, Kenya seeks a stable administration on the Somali side, one sympathetic to nascent economic — hydrocarbon and infrastructural — and development plans in northern Kenya.”
Australia advised its nationals a week ago to avoid Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, and the coastal city of Mombasa because of the elevated risk of “terrorist” attacks.
The Canadian government discouraged “non-essential” travel to Mombasa because of the “current elevated threat of terrorism” as well as to Eastleigh following the recent attacks there, according to a travel advisory updated yesterday.
Kenyatta has promised to reverse three decades of under-investment in the country’s security.
“The security situation has been deteriorating since Westgate; we’ve seen so many grenade attacks in Eastleigh and Mombasa to the point that Kenyans can no longer keep count,” Dismas Mokua, deputy president of Nairobi-based Sadiki East Africa, a risk advisory group, said by phone on April 2. Eastleigh is a mainly ethnic-Somali neighborhood in Nairobi.
A gun attack last month on a church in Mombasa killed six worshipers, including the mother of a toddler who had a bullet lodged in his head that surgeons later successfully removed.
Earlier in March, police impounded a car laden with weapons and explosives in Mombasa, while on April 2 a bomb squad detonated an improvised explosive device found concealed near a busy road in Nairobi.
Makaburi, who was assassinated near Mombasa and whose name means graves in the Swahili language, was a “close associate” of Islamist militant Aboud Rogo, the UN says. Rogo’s murder in August 2012 sparked days of riots in the city.
“We could see further tensions and potential violence between Somali, Muslim and other communities in locations such as Eastleigh in Nairobi and Majengo and Likoni in Mombasa,” said AKE’s Reid. “Muslim groups in Mombasa have threatened to protest this weekend following the shooting.”
The security forces detained more than 1,000 people in Nairobi in the two days following a triple explosion on March 31 in Eastleigh, known as Little Mogadishu after Somalia’s capital, in which six people were killed.
After the blasts, Human Rights Watch urged the government to avoid a repeat of “abuses” against Somali refugees in Kenya that followed a similar attack more than a year ago in Eastleigh that left at least five people dead.
Police spokeswoman Zipporah Mboroki didn’t answer two calls seeking comment today.
Interior Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku on April 2 repeated a complaint he first voiced last year that Somali militants are using refugee camps to prepare attacks in Kenya.
The government has ordered all refugees and asylum seekers living in urban areas to report to camps in the north, and has prepared a plan for refugees in Kenya to return home over three years, according to Defense Secretary Raychelle Omamo.
Nakumatt Ltd., the biggest retail chain in Kenya by outlets, has deployed plain-clothed police officers at its stores, because of unverified warnings circulating via text messages and social networking sites of “potential terror threats at specific shopping malls,” Managing Director Atul Shah said today in e-mailed statement.
Widespread public distrust of the police is hampering Kenya’s security effort, and the government needs to better engage the community, said Mokua.
“The biggest challenge is for Kenyan President Kenyatta to make people feel secure to give information, especially on issues of terrorism,” said Mokua. “There is no incentive even to give information to the police; they can ask you to stay for hours on end and you can even become a suspect.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah McGregor in Nairobi at email@example.com