Blowback? Kenya pins Nairobi grenade attack on Somali Islamists

Kenyan police have arrested four people in Sunday's grenade attacks in Nairobi, which killed 7 people. Is it blowback for Kenya's military involvement in Somalia?

Noor Khamis/REUTERS
Kenyan policemen secure the blast area after four explosions in Kenya's capital Nairobi March 10. An explosion at a bus station in downtown Nairobi on Saturday evening killed at least two people and wounded more than 30, the Kenyan Red Cross said.

Kenyan police have arrested four people in connection with a grenade attack on Sunday at a crowded bus stand near Nairobi. The Kenyan government blamed the grenade blast – which killed seven people, and wounded more than 50 others – on Al Shabab, a Somali Islamist insurgent group that has openly aligned itself with Al Qaeda.

“Obviously we suspect this attack to be linked to Al Shabab, and we are going to pursue them within and into Somalia,” said Kenyan Internal Security Minister George Saitoti.

Al Shabab spokesman Sheikh Abdulaziz Abu Musab did not directly confirm Al Shabab’s involvement in the blast, but was quoted on Sunday as saying that Kenya and Al-Shabab are at war. Kenya has sent troops into Somalia to go after the militant group. A regional official with Al Shabab told Somalia Report that Al Shabab was indeed responsible for the attack.

Even though neighboring militaries have put Al Shabab on the run in Somalia, this latest attacks add to the group's claims that it can still hit back, even in the home countries of their enemies. 

This is now the second major grenade attack in Kenya since Kenyan armed forces crossed the northern border into Somalia in mid-October 2011. The Kenyan troops are part of a four-pronged joint attack against Al Shabab, led by African Union peacekeeping forces in Mogadishu, Ethiopian forces, and a pro-government militia group called Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa.  

As a frontline state with a large ethnic Somali population, a long porous border, and an economy that is heavily dependent on foreign investment and tourism, Kenya has much to lose if Islamist insurgents bring the battle to Kenya’s own urban areas. But Kenyan officials say they are committed to the fight, and ensuring that Al Shabab does not continue to threaten Kenya’s own national interests.

"This is an act of people who think that they can puncture the resolve to fight terror,” said Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, on a visit to Jomo Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi. “It is a difficult moment but it should strengthen our resolve and am sure we will win." 

Over Twitter, the banned jihadist group Muslim Youth Center – a Kenyan ally of Al Shabab – crowed that the Kenyan police at the bus station had taken cover during the bus station grenade attack.

“Eyewitnesses recount how Nairobi police fled in fear and locked themselves up in a toilet when the blast happened yesterday. Cowards!” read one tweet from @MYC_Press, the Muslim Youth Center’s press office. “Contd: hardly an act of serve and they actually fear jihad,” read another.

Yusuf Hassan, a Kenyan of Somali descent who is a member of parliament, appealed to Kenyans of Somali descent to cooperate with Kenyan police in reporting suspicious behavior.

“I would like to tell Somalis that they must be alert and ready to work closely with Kenyan security forces,” Mr. Hassan told reporters after a visit to Kenyatta National Hospital. “They must be aware of those who are working to damage their dignity and targeting Kenyan civilians. If anyone sees suspicious people they must report them to the closest police station to prevent harm to civilians and to the security of Kenya.”

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