Somalia’s al-Shabab Terror Group Casts Shadow Over Kenya

Hundreds of newly trained Al Shabab fighters perform military exercises south of Mogadishu in this 2011 file photo. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP/File)
Hundreds of newly trained Al Shabab fighters perform military exercises south of Mogadishu in this 2011 file photo. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP/File)

When quarry miners in northern Kenya packed up their few belongings and fled last month after a terrorist attack, they left behind their jobs and back pay. They returned to their families in this central Kenya city with stories of survival and horror, but no money for Christmas and no job prospects for the new year.

They face a gnawing uncertainty: Will poverty force them back to the quarries close to the Somali border, where fighters from the militant group Shabab roam, hijacking cars and carrying out brutal revenge attacks?

Shabab, the Somali group that killed 36 miners last month, has created a visceral insecurity in the lives of Kenyans. For some, it’s a mere twinge of nerves that comes when entering a mall after gunmen seized a Nairobi shopping center in 2013 and killed 67 people, or when attending a conference where bomb-sniffing dogs check everyone’s bags before the opening prayers. But terrorism is daily presence on the coast and in the far north, where the worst attacks of 2014 occurred.

Last year was the most deadly since 2011, when Kenya began its military intervention in Somalia, taking the fight to Shabab’s homeland. More than 90 people were killed in several terrorist attacks near Lamu on the Kenyan coast; 64 were executed in the two attacks near the northeastern town of Mandera. Kenya’s crucial tourist industry — hit by trauma every few years — was devastated by the violence, which included the shootings of several tourists in Mombasa.

Shabab has suffered setbacks in Somalia, with the killings of its secretive commander, Ahmed Abdi Godane, its intelligence chief, Tahlil Abdishakur, and other top figures in recent U.S. airstrikes. But in Kenya, the security crisis has only deepened as local terrorist cells take root and harsh government reactions cause a backlash. In a sign that the group’s weakening position in Somalia may not end the threat to Kenya, militants attributed their recent attacks to revenge for Kenyan security operations at home rather than in Somalia.

The quarry attack underscores the stepped-up cycle of violence. It came after Kenyan airstrikes on Shabab camps near the border in November, which followed the militant group’s attack on a bus near Mandera that left 28 Christian passengers dead. The bus attack was launched in revenge for raids by security forces on mosques in Mombasa and elsewhere along the coast, with scores of young men arrested, and for a spate of mysterious assassinations of extremist Islamic preachers and terrorism suspects since 2012.

Last May, after massive police raids in a Somali neighborhood near the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, a Shabab leader, Sheik Fuad Mohamed Khalaf Shongole, announced the group was launching war inside Kenya and called on all the country’s Muslims to join the fight.

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SOURCE: The Los Angeles Times
Robyn Dixon

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