ATbar The Dilemmas Faced by the Kenyan Government in the Fight Against the Al-Shabaab Terrorist Groups
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The Dilemmas Faced by the Kenyan Government in the Fight Against the Al-Shabaab Terrorist Groups

24/03/2015 | by Nderitu, George  

The Kenyan government decided to send its defense forces to fight against Al-Shabaab, (ICG Africa Report, 2012) in Somalia in 2011, in what was intended to be a brief operation. Kenya’s incursion into Somalia was precipitated by the frequent kidnappings of tourists on Kenyan soil along the coast region in Mombasa. Two foreign aid workers were also kidnapped by Al-Shabaab in the Dadaab refugee camp. In response, Kenya launched Operation ‘Linda Nchi’ (“protect the country”), aimed at flushing out Al-Shabaab from its safe haven in Somalia where the group had operated since 2006 (Little, 2012, pp190). The Kenya government launched the operation with high hopes and prospects for a viable, extremist-free future neighborhood, Jubaland, a semi-autonomous state within Somalia, according to Centre for Disaster Management & Humanitarian Assistance (CDMHA) (Kassilly, et al., 2012). The operation was hurriedly organized, seemingly without much adequate preparation for retaliatory attacks.  This involvement by the Kenya government in Somalia was partly motivated by a desire to immunize the northeastern province of Kenya that borders Somalia from chaos, ease the huge refugee burden, and curtail the radical influence of Al-Shabaab (Little, 2012). Notably, the population in the northeastern region of Kenya is predominantly made up of Somalis who subscribe to Islam as their main religion.

In response to Kenya's actions, Al-Shabaab released a propaganda video declaring war on Kenya. The video was released by Sheikh Ahmed Iman Ali, the self-proclaimed de facto leader of Kenyan Al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia.  In the video recording titled, “If they seek your help in religion, it is your duty to help them”, Sheikh Ali said that war or jihad should now be waged in Kenya in response to the military operation in Somalia (Mayoyo, 2012).

Kenya has experienced a painful history of terrorist threats since the mid-1990s, from a number of extremist groups that operated in Somalia (Kassilly et al., 2012). These groups carried out or facilitated terrorist attacks not only in Kenya but also within the East Africa region.  The first group was Al-Ittihaad Al-Islami (AIAI), a Somali Islamist and nationalist political group with longstanding ties to Al-Qaeda that aimed to establish an Islamic emirate in the Somali-inhabited territories of the Horn of Africa, Kenya, according to the Military Intervention Crisis Group (ICG Africa Report, 2012). Its strategy relied upon regional and international networks linked to the Somali diaspora. Members travelled freely between Kenya and Somalia and elsewhere in the region, and built considerable infrastructure for recruitment, fundraising and communication among the Somali populations in Nairobi, Mombasa and the north-eastern province.  In the mid-1990s, the AIAI claimed responsibility for several terrorist attacks in Ethiopia. Following Ethiopian retaliatory raids on its Somali bases in early 1997, however, the AIAI’s military and political command structure was dismantled, and the movement formally disbanded after failing to attain its objective of a pan-Somali, Salafist emirate. By 2005, it had essentially ceased to exist as an organisation, although many of its leaders re-emerged in the Union of Islamic Courts, according to the International Crisis Group Briefing No. 45, Somalia: “The Tough Part is Ahead”, (ICG Africa Report, 2012).

Some AIAI leaders remained active and may have played a supporting role in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. The August 7, 1998 twin attacks on the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were carried out by Al-Qaeda in East Africa, based in Somalia (Shinn, 2012, p. 205). The group’s Somali connections were instrumental in planning and executing the attacks, which killed a total of 225 people and wounded over 4,000 more. Twelve of the dead were US citizens; the vast majority were citizens of Kenya or Tanzania. Increased international attention led to the capture or killing of a number of the group’s leaders, but it remained a serious threat and on December 28, 2002, the group attacked the Paradise Hotel, a beachfront lodge in Kikambala, Kenya, owned by Israelis and frequented by Israeli tourists, killing fifteen people and injuring about 80 others (ICG Africa Report, 2012). Another mass attack occurred on July 11, 2010, when bombings in Kampala killed 85 civilians and injured dozens more. The attack was attributed to Al-Shabaab, a successor to AIAI, although most participants were East Africans. The attack confirmed longstanding fears that the group could become a regional threat and came after several explicit warnings that it would “bring war to Uganda and Burundi” in revenge for their contribution of troops to AMISOM in support of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and for civilian casualties caused by AMISOM shelling (ICG Africa Report, 2012).  In the wake of these threats, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) was justified in its defensive and pre-emptive attack to protect against Al-Shabaab terrorism (Kassilly et al., 2012).

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