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Why latest Shabab attacks are targeting locals along Somalia border, the trends and the pressure fuelling it

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By: Harun Salat

GARISSA—Since the beginning of June, the three Northeastern counties have seen a sharp increase in indiscriminatory insurgency attacks targeting the security officers, government workers and civilian passengers.

Over ten people have so far lost their lives in the attacks as dozen others nurse injuries. Although Al Shabab has not claimed any of the attacks, security experts believe the patterns match the tactics used by the militant group.

Today, we are going to look at why the attacks have suddenly increased, the factors and why the locals are joining the fight against insurgency in a trend never seen before.

Police officer walks past a wreckage of a police vehicle that ran over an IED in Mandera County. (Courtesy)

What’s fuelling the increasing indiscriminatory attacks in the region?

Since President Hassan Sheikh declared an all-out war with Shabab mid last year, the group has been losing strategically significant ground that saw them move to Jubbaland, an area that shares border with the three Northestern counties of Garissa, Wajir and Mandera.

Few months after the Somali National Army supported by civilian fighters begun the campaign to free areas controlled by Al-Shabab, President Ruto took over as Kenya’s president. As he had promised in the run up to the August last year elections, the government announced partial reopening of the border with Somalia as well as other people-centered policy shift.

The re-opening of the three border points—which had been shut for more than a decade due to insecurity posed by Al Shabaab—is expected to boost the flow of people and capital between Kenya and Somalia.

In the decade the Somalia-Kenya border was closed, Al Shabab was severally reported as imposing heavy taxes on business owners smuggling goods across the border. The reopening of the border came as a shocker to the group since goods are now being legally imported into the country through the three entry points of Mandera, Liboi and Kiunga in Lamu.

Cabinet Secretary for Interior and National Administration, Prof Kithure Kindiki at a function in Isiolo County. (Courtesy)

On March, the Cabinet Secretary for Interior Prof Kindiki announced what he termed as increased Shabab movement and activities in Nothern Kenya. In response, the government upscaled security operations along the border counties to flush-out the militants. Since then, several militants were either killed or arrested by the multi-agency security teams. The police said the anti-Shabab operation was heavily supported by the locals.

On the other hand, politicians, community elders and religious leaders have been vocal in the fight against extremism in an unprecedented way, a move seen as a break from the past when government officials and a handful political leaders used to speak against the militant group, and only after an attack.

Is Al Shabab conducting the attacks in retaliation for the change of tact?

Last week, a passenger mini bus carrying 14 passengers from Takaba heading to Mandera town ran over an IED between Elele and Wargadud locations. At least three passengers were killed and six others seriously injured. Unlike in the past, security analysts are convinced that the armed group is lately targeting everyone—whether local or non-local.

This comes at the backdrop of Al-Shabab’s insistence that “their mission is to free Northeastern from the reign of injustice” as severally seen in their vidoes and news portals.

However, the constant reiteration by the police that “the locals have played a key role in foiling the attack and apprehended the suspected militants” has not gone down well with the group; who now tag the residents of the region as “collaborators.”

Executive Director of HARN Siyad Jimale at a past event in Nairobi [Kulan Post]

Siyad Jimale, the Executive Director of Horizon Analysts and Researchers Network (HARN) told Kulan Post that the disbandment of the DCI’s Special Services Unit—a squad President Ruto said used to carry out extrajudicial killings—the appointment of officials from Nothern Kenya to head the nation’s security apparatus and the complete elimination of the institutionalised discriminatory policy on the issuance of IDs and passports as well as the reopening of the border with Somalia has rekindled a sense of patriotism and erased the “marginalization syndrome” sowed by the successive regimes

He added that: “Communities along the border have now ganged-up and joined the fight against Al-Shabab, who they now see as the biggest impediment to the growth and development of the region.”

What are the community, political leaders and clerics saying about the sudden surge in attacks?

Led by the Cabinet Secretary for Defence Aden Duale, the political leaders have been vocal against the group’s ideology. He’s been urging residents to “defend their country” while firing a warning shot to the local Al-Shabaab sympathizers

“I want to say clearly that we have enough human intelligence and will monitor every communication especially those locals collaborating with our enemy. And the moment you finish with that call we are with you,” he said during the 4th graduation ceremony of Garissa University, an institution that recovered from Kenya’s worst terrorist attack where more than 148 people died, mostly students, in April of 2015.

Duale regretted that the militants had resorted to planting explosives on the roadside, targeting vehicles of security officers and other public vehicles plying different routes.

Speaking at Masalani Baraza Park in Garissa a week earlier, Duale said the militants have had a field day in carrying out attacks in the county for far too long, but time has come to “completely crush them.”

“This will be the administration that will bring an end to terror attacks both in our country, along our borders and inside Somalia,” the former Garissa Township MP said.

“We are telling Al-Shabaab that we will not allow you to continue carrying out attacks in any part of Northeastern, Coast or any part of the country. We will not allow a few characters to preach radical ideologies to our people and kill our citizens,” a visibly furious Duale added.

He further called on residents to closely work with security apparatus in ensuring peace and security is achieved and support government’s moral obligation to defend and protect the country from extremist individuals.

Garissa County deputy governor said the “people of Garissa won’t be cowed by young boys with guns. We will defend ourselves and our land from the threat of Al-Shabab. I’m ready to lead the way,” he said at Ijara during the burial of eight military officers killed in an IED attack.

Following a two-day meeting with the leaders, clerics and community elders, the Northeastern Regional Commissioner John Otieno said the clan elders have the information to “help us in the fight against insurgency, and it’s encouraging that they have boldly pledged to chip in and help.” He was flanked by Governor Ahmed Abdullahi and Wajir East MP, Aden Daud.

Just days after a press conference was held by Mandera leaders led by Governor Mohamed Khalif, MPs and Senator Ali Roba, the head of the County Security Committee said the local community was now committed to helping the security agencies fight al-Shabaab.

“We have reached an agreement with the local community on ways to cooperate in this fight. The search and flushing out of the militants is now under way and the goodwill of the local community is what we needed,” said Amos Mariba, the Mandera County Commissioner.

On Wednesday during the Eid-ul-Adha holiday, the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) condemned the recent string of attacks on security personnel in Mandera, Garissa and Lamu counties.

Supkem national chairman Alhajj Hassan said they are deeply disturbed with the attacks meted on innocent civillians in the regions.

“We are particularly saddened by the resurgence of threats to national security where violent extremist groups have launched attacks on the civilian population and security personnel especially in the North Eastern and Coastal regions of the country,” Hassan said.

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