Concern over rise in terror attacks in northern Kenya

Wednesday January 15 2020

Mast destroyed in Garissa Shabaab attack.

The Safaricom communication mast that was destroyed by suspected al-Shabaab militants in an attack in Garissa County on January 7, 2020. PHOTO | BRUHAN MAKONG | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

VINCENT ACHUKA
By VINCENT ACHUKA
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The recent increase in attacks by al-Shabaab in northern Kenya has raised concern that the Somali terror group may be weakened but is not yet defeated and is still working hard to raise its profile in global jihadi circles.

FLAT-FOOTED

Historically, al-Shabaab’s attacks tend to increase in the period between December and February. The group, which is an affiliate of al-Qaeda, also times its attacks to coincide with anniversaries of previous successful attacks or the start of Ethiopia’s military campaign against them towards the end of 2006.

The numbers, however, show that there has been a slight increase in attacks compared with previous years. Since the start of December last year, at least 21 people have been killed, mostly in northern Kenya and Lamu, similar to the number of casualties in the Dusit attack in Nairobi whose first anniversary will be this week.

But what is raising eyebrows is the apparent shift in strategy by the group on how it is picking its targets and the number of times the government has been caught flat-footed.

AIR STRIKES

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The continuing attacks on non-locals and communication masts in northeastern Kenya, analysts say, are an old strategy of attempting to make Kenyans start doubting the efficacy of Kenya’s troops in Somalia. The attack on a military base jointly operated by Kenyan and American forces in Lamu last week is, however, the greatest indicator of the terror group’s adaptive capabilities.

Since taking over in 2017 as US President, Donald Trump has made it a top priority to defeat al-Shabaab using air strikes. This has reduced the terror group’s ability to move in large numbers, making it difficult for them to carry out large-scale attacks like those in El-Adde or Mpeketoni.

As a result, the group has turned on American interests and at the same time switched to low-grade insurgency and guerrilla tactics in Kenya while continuing to undermine the Somalia government using high-impact attacks in Mogadishu like the use of car bombs.

FEELING WRATH

Without the ability to mount attacks in big towns in Kenya, it is the residents of northern Kenya and the coastal county of Lamu who are feeling the wrath of a resurgent al-Shabaab, which just two years ago had been deemed to be on its last kicks.

Sunday night’s attack at Kamuthe Primary School in Garissa was the latest of a string of attacks that have left 10 people dead in the country within a week. The school has been closed indefinitely following the attack which claimed the lives of three teachers.

The gunmen reportedly overran and torched the Kamuthe Administation Police Post after outgunning security officers. 

Additional reporting by Mishi Gongo and Winnie Atieno​

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