Kenya attacks raise worries Somalia's Al Shabab are reorganizing

Some analysts view recent Al Shabab attacks inside Kenya as a sign that the Somalia-based militant group is adapting to an African Union campaign against them.

Tobin Jones/AU/UN IST/Courtesy of Reuters
A soldier from the African Union Mission in Somalia monitors traffic along a street in Mogadishu, Somalia, last week.

An Africa Union military campaign to eliminate Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked Somali militant group, has gained ground. But Al Shabab's fighters are adapting and finding space to reorganize into small attack units, some analysts say.

Last Saturday, one of these heavily armed units crossed into Kenya and launched coordinated attacks on two police camps in Liboi district. Six people including two police officers, a Red Cross official, and 15-year-old boy were killed in the night attack. Soon after, Al Shabab spokesman said the group had overrun the camps.

“A small unit of Mujahedeen raided Kenyan base, early last night taking over the base killing 8 Kaffur and injuring more than a dozen,” Al Shabab said on their Twitter account. The militants said they had also captured two Kenyans and seized guns in the attack which injured scores of others.

Since October 2011 when Kenyan troops entered Somalia to pursue the group, 30 attacks have occurred in the cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, and Garrissa.

But the claim of responsibility, after a rare silence, has alarmed security officials. In September 2012 Al Shabab was expelled from Kismayu, its logistical and economic base, a development that disrupted its operations, says David Samba, a former military officer, but that did not end the threat. The group also lost key cities and towns, but it continues to control many rural villages, where it implements a strict form of Islamic law.

On Sunday, Police Inspector General David Kamaiyo confirmed the attack by Al Shabab and said six people were still missing. The army rolled in chase, soon after the officer promised Kenya would pursue the attacks.

Reorganization

Al Shabab is finding space to reorganize says Simiyu Werunga, the executive director of the African Centre for Security and Strategic Studies, a Kenyan based think-tank for public safety and security.

The militants had escaped areas they formerly controlled after being routed out of Kismayo, but the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) – now part of the African Union Mission for Somalia (Amisom) – and are developing new local relationships, according to Mr. Werunga.

“For some time now, they have been looking for strategic space to reorganize. It appears they are finding some among the communities. We need to look seriously into this issue, we need to know whether the people, the forces, are providing medicines and water [and] are affording them space,” says Mr. Werunga.

But Col. Cyrus Oguna, the KDF spokesman, says the militants still stand disrupted after losing Kismayo, their main source of income and their logistical base. “What we are witnessing are isolated cases,” he says.

Meanwhile, Human Right Watch has accused the police of committing atrocities and abuses against refugees after grenade explosions in Nairobi. In a 68-page report released Wednesday titled, "'You are All Terrorists': Kenyan Police Abuse of Refugees in Nairobi," HRW said at least 1,000 Somali refugees were abused and arbitrarily detained between mid-November 2012 and late January 2013. 

The abuses included rape, robbery, and assault and had followed a government order for all urban refugees to relocate to Dabaab, the overly-crowded camp in northeastern Kenya.

"Refugees told us how hundreds of Kenyan police unleashed 10 weeks of hell on communities close to the heart of Nairobi, torturing, abusing, and stealing from some of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people," said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher for Human Rights Watch. "The humiliation and fear that asylums seekers and Kenya Somalis went through was extraordinary. Having been abused there is a permanent sense of fear among them."

HRW wants Kenya to immediately open an independent public investigation, and the United Nations refugee agency – which has not spoken publicly about the abuses – to document and publicly report on any future abuses against refugees.

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