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It wasn't us: Somali militants disavow Kenya threat

Al Shabab, the Somali militant group with ideological links to Al Qaeda, says the threat to attack Kenya – posted on its website this week – is fake.

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"We didn't threaten Kenya. That story is a false one,” Mr. Rage told a Reuters reporter. “We never posted that on the Internet. ... Everything needs to be checked first by the media to make sure they know what they are writing about."

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Rashid Abdi, a Horn of Africa specialist at the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, says that the threat – even if disavowed by Al Shabab’s leadership – could indicate splits within top Al Shabab leadership.

“I think you have a nationalist group within Al Shabab, who are fed up with global jihadist agenda, and they saying our plate is already full with fighting the African Union and Western-backed transitional government, so we have no business taking on Kenya,” says Mr. Abdi. “On the other side you have the foreign jihadis, who say, ‘no, no, no, you signed up for global jihad.”

In any case, the threat against Kenya is likely to prompt Kenya to clamp down on Islamists in particular and the Somali community in general, which will likely push more young Muslims into the arms of Al Shabab. “If the jihadis don’t want peace, then this is good for their agenda. It will radicalize ethnic Somalis in Kenya, and boost their recruitment.”

'Measured response' is needed

Al Shabab – a militia that controls most of southern Somalia, including most of the capital of Mogadishu – has threatened to attack other countries before: against Ethiopia for its December 2006 invasion of Somalia, and against Uganda and Burundi for contributing troops for the African Union peacekeeping mission that supports the shaky transitional government in Somalia. As yet, none of its threats have been carried out, although Al Shabab has claimed credit for a series of suicide bombings throughout Somalia itself.

Security analysts say that the porous nature of Kenya’s borders with Somalia, and the fact that Al-Qaeda influenced supporters have carried out bombing attacks in Nairobi – most notably the 1998 bombing of the US embassy – are reason enough for Kenya to be on its guard. But Mr. Cornwell says that Kenya must be careful to be measured in its response.

“This called for a measured response and circumspection about one's foreign policy,” says Cornwell. “When the American government supported Ethiopia in its invasion of Somalia, for the first time the mullahs in Eastleigh were putting politics into their sermons.”

Strong actions can have unintended consequences and actually fan the flames of radical sentiment, Cornwell says, “but unfortunately, that isn’t the way people’s minds work” in the world where foreign policy is made.