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Al Shabaab changes tack to directly take on KDF in Lamu

By   /  July 29, 2014  /  No Comments

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Three months after Western countries warned of possible terrorist attacks in Nairobi, Mombasa and other Coastal towns, the politicisation of Kenya’s security has intensified long-standing sectarian divisions among the Coastal people to a potentially explosive level. Reports from the Kenya Coast show ethnically motivated violence could be on the rise, which analysts say points to the changing nature of Al Shabaab’s tactics. In a departure from their modus operandi of isolated bombings, the militant group is now operating like an insurgency, directly engaging the Kenya Defence Forces in Boni Forest, northeast of Lamu. Last Sunday’s attack in the Soweto slum in Mombasa, in which four people were shot dead in “revenge attacks” for the Mpeketoni killings, is giving credence to the government’s claim of a rising militia threat in the region. The Navy has now been deployed to help the police fight the local militias, which the government believes are behind the wave of killings. Victims of the Mpeketoni attack said they saw the assailants stocking up on food and medical supplies, indicating they could be in the area for the long haul. Two months ago, Sheikh Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, a leader of Al Shabaab, warned that the group would “soon” be taking the war in Somalia to Kenya’s doorstep. Al Shabaab is also employing propaganda. Witnesses in Mpeketoni said some attackers delivered a jihadist sermon at a mosque in Pandanguo village. The Kenyan government has however blamed local political leaders for the attacks, and militia like the separatist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC). This is despite the fact that last Friday, two known Al Shabaab operatives were arrested by the KDF in connection with the Lamu attacks. The US has now suspended its Peace Corps programme in Kenya. The US State Department said on Thursday that the decision to pull the 70 volunteers out was “based on the overall security picture.” The announcement came as a German tourist was shot dead and her Ugandan boyfriend critically injured in Mombasa. The holidaymaker becomes the second foreigner to be killed in the Old Town district of Mombasa after a Russian tourist was shot dead a month ago. Local analysts and the public have taken opposite positions on the issue. Some have echoed the government’s narrative while others say the attacks at the Coast bear the hallmarks of Al Shabaab on account of their sophistication and witness statements by the victims. “Al Shabaab was definitely responsible for the Mpeketoni incident,” Anneli Botha, a senior researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies, told The EastAfrican. “The unfortunate reality in Kenya is that security — especially in relation to Al Shabaab — is being politicised.” Lamu-based activist Abubakar Al-Amudy said President Uhuru Kenyatta slipped up when he fell short of blaming the opposition for instigating the attacks in order to evict a particular ethnic group from Lamu. “The attackers were heavily armed and well organised. Having lived here myself for a very long time, I can attest that local people, including the MRC, have no capacity to stage such a co-ordinated attack,” Mr Al-Amudy, who heads the Save Lamu Coalition, said over the phone. Ms Botha said there is a big difference between Al Shabaab and the issues brought forth by MRC, and to group them together “because of the same geographical space would be a mistake.” The pattern of attacks in Lamu reveal that Al Shabaab is exploiting simmering sectarian divisions among the Coastal people to further its goals. After the Mpeketoni attack, the Islamist group said in a statement that it raided the busy township because “it was originally a Muslim town before it was invaded and occupied by Christian settlers.” At the heart of the attacks is a mix of long-standing narratives of marginalisation, radicalisation among youth and political disputes. Land remains one of the most contentious issues in Lamu. The Save Lamu Coalition says title ownership among the four main ethnic groups — the Bajuni, Sanye, Aweer (Boni) and Orma — is between 10 and 20 per cent. The $23 billion Lamu Port and South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) project is expected to exacerbate the land problem. Over 70 per cent of the land currently occupied by the Aweer will be taken up by the new port.

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