Kenyan military says it has killed Al Shabab intelligence commander

However, the Somalia-based Islamic militants later denied that their spy chief was dead.

Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
Somali President Hassan Sheik Mohamud addresses mourners as he pays respects to the Kenyan soldiers serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), who were killed in El Adde during an attack, at a memorial mass at the Moi Barracks in Eldoret.

Kenya’s military says it has killed the deputy commander and intelligence chief for Somalia's Al Shabab jihadist terror group, a man blamed for masterminding a deadly attack on a Kenyan military camp in southern Somalia last month, officials said on Thursday.

The officials said they killed Mohamed Karatey, also known as Mahad Karate, alongside 10 other Al Shabab commanders, in a major strike, at a graduation ceremony for about 80 recruits of Amniyat, the intelligence wing of Al Shabab.

Later on Thursday, Al Shabab denied that Karatey had been killed in the assault, the BBC reported.

Last April, the US State Department designated Karatey a terrorist, and offered a $5 million reward for information that would bring him "to justice," saying that he was the mastermind in the Amniyat, which was responsible for the April 2015 attack on Kenya's Garissa University College, in which 147 people died, according to Voice of America.

The Alamnyat is made up of suicide bombers, assassins, explosives experts and information gatherers, according to Kenyan officials.

“Operations against the Al Shabab terrorists will continue until justice is done,” the Kenya Defense Forces said.

The killing comes a few weeks after the Kenyan military forces withdrew from two towns in southern Somalia, following the January 15 attack in the southwest Somali region of El Adde which Al Shabab took credit for, claiming to have killed 100 Kenyan soldiers.  

“The alleged death of Mahad Karate will be an operational blow for Al Shabab given the important role he played in orchestrating attacks in Somalia and neighboring Kenya,” Ryan Cummings, director of intelligence at risk-management consultancy Signal Risk tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email.

“Al Shabab has and continues to demonstrate its resilience and deadliness despite losing key figures to counter-terrorism operations employed by the Somalia National Army (SNA), AMISOM and their regional alliance partners,” he said alluding to the 2014 raid which killed Al Shabab’s former leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, and the killing of Abdi Dek, the operation commander of the Abu Zubeir Brigade that carried out the attack in El Adde.

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), established a decade ago, has made serious dents in Al Shabab's capabilities, and forced the militants out of its strongholds, including the capital Mogadishu, but the group has retaliated with relentless attacks in Somalia and Kenya.

Despite the blows, analysts suspect that the killing might prompt yet another retaliation from the jihadist group. Al Shabab has a history of launching attacks after losing key figures, and “there is a possibility that we may see a short-term increase in Al Shabab attacks to both avenge Karate but do also show the group's dexterity in light of his demise,” Cummings added.

Al Shabab has waged an insurgency in Somalia since 2006, and initially garnered supporters by providing services lacking in the areas they controlled. It has gradually lost local support, and weakened because of its strict interpretation of sharia law. Kenya deployed its troops in Somalia in 2011 to help troops from other African countries fight the Al Qaeda-affiliated extremist group.

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