Kenya bombs Al Shabab targets amid outcry over response to Garissa attack

Critics are pointing to corruption as a key contributor to gaps in Kenya's security efforts.

Ben Curtis/AP
Kenya Defense Force troops arrived at a hospital in Garissa to escort the bodies of the Al Shabab attackers for public viewing on Saturday.

The Kenyan government says it has struck back against Al Shabab, bombing two of the Islamist group's Somali camps in retaliation for its deadly attack Thursday on a university in the northeastern town of Garissa. But some experts say the danger to Kenya is less the terrorist group itself than the holes in the country's security thanks to rampant corruption.

A Kenyan spokesman said early Monday that the Air Force had bombed two sites within Somalia "because according to information we have, those [Al Shabab] fellows are coming from there to attack Kenya," the Guardian reports. The damage done to the two camps, both in the Gedo region bordering Kenya, could not be ascertained because of cloud cover over the sites, the spokesman said.

Al Shabab claimed responsibility last week for the attack on Garissa College University, in which four gunmen killed at least 148 students. Kenyan security forces eventually killed the gunmen. Al Shabab said that the attack was in retaliation for Kenya's ongoing military activity in Somalia, where its Army is aiding the internationally-backed Somali government in rooting out the Islamic group.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday promised to "respond in the fiercest way possible" to the attack, in which the gunmen specifically targeted non-Muslim students at the college. The government also posted a 20 million shilling ($218,000) reward for Mohamed Mohamud, an Al Shabab leader and former Garissa teacher who is believed to be the mastermind of at least two attacks on Kenya. And at least one of the attackers came from a prominent family – one of the four was identified as Abdirahim Mohammed Abdullahi, son of a Kenyan chief and a former law student, reports The Washington Post.

The Mail & Guardian Africa reports that the Kenyan media broadly slammed the government's response to the attack as slow and inadequate. The newspaper published a laundry list of criticism, including:

• Kenya’s major Nation newspaper said that instead of ferrying security forces the FIRST PLANE FROM NAIROBI TO GARISSA CARRIED INTERIOR MINISTER JOSEPH NKAISSERY and POLICE CHIEF JOSEPH BOINET.

• Some journalists based in Nairobi who drove the 365 kilometres (225 miles) to Garissa after hearing the first reports of the attack arrived before the special forces, who came by air. ...

• Though there had been warnings of possible attacks on colleges, and at least two universities in the country had taken the threat seriously enough to make extra security arrangements; plus the fact that a UK travel advisory referred to risks in Garissa county, Interior minister Nkaissery still said the attack was “one of those incidents which can surprise any country.”

The M&G notes that one government spokesman defended the response as "not bad at all, say, compared to Westgate," referring to the 2013 attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi. “It takes time to assess and make the decisions, escalating it from National Security Advisory Committee to the National Security Council and then to scramble the elite units, get them to the airport and fly them to Garissa which is a two hour flight. There were many moving parts.”

But Abdullahi B. Halakhe, a Nairobi-based East Africa researcher with Amnesty International, sees Kenya's response very differently. “It’s not that al-Shabab is so good at what they’re doing – the government just does such a terrible job that they make them look good. Al-Shabab is probably at its weakest point since 2006,” he said, according to Time magazine.

Rather, the problem is corruption, particularly among Kenyan police, the report notes:

“It’s very clear that the Kenya police is probably the most corrupt institution in this country, folks crossing the border have to pay less than $200 and they can cross over,” said Halakhe, referring to the ease with which anyone, including al-Shabab, can enter Kenya.

“Entrenched corruption in the security system allows al-Shabab to move freely in and out of Kenya and carry out such attacks with ease,” said prominent Kenyan activist Boniface Mwangi in a statement online.

Kenya ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, landing 145th out of 174 on Transparency International’s Global Corruption Perception Index. The Kenyan police rank as the most corrupt institution in Kenya.

The security response left many Christians in Garissa fearful to venture to church over the weekend, even on Easter Sunday, one of Christianity's most important holidays. The Christian Science Monitor reported Sunday that worshipers were scant in one Anglican church in Garissa. "The early morning service at St. Peter’s Anglican Church usually attracts 60 to 70 people. Only 14 attended today. A more popular 9 a.m. service was better attended: about 75 showed up, compared to the usual 200 or so."

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