Kenyan government should blame itself for Al Shabab blowback

The Nairobi mall attack is the deadliest act of terrorism since the 1998 US embassy bombing

Kenya’s incursion into Somalia and its fragile intelligence agency has made Al-Shabab a strong multinational terrorist organisation, writes 5Pillarz Kenya correspondent Mohammed Kahiye from Nairobi.

The Nairobi Westgate mall attack will go down in history as one of the most sophisticated single attacks on Kenyan soil since the 1998 US embassy bombing.

The attack came a few days after the second anniversary of the date when Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) entered Somalia to pursue Al-Shabab, which they considered to be posing a great danger to Kenya’s national security.

Two years ago the Kenyan government blindly ignored advice from numerous Muslim politicians not to go to war with the group. They predicted that the consequences of the move would result in retaliation from Al-Shabab that would be disastrous and beyond the normal expected “hit and run” attacks; instead the retaliation would be clever, calculated and inevitable.

War with Al-Shabab

Nevertheless, Kenya went to war with Al-Shabab. This was justified after the death of a French and a British tourist who were alleged to have been kidnapped and killed by Al-Shabab along the Kenyan coastal city of Malindi. Kenyans were convinced that their main economic source (tourism) was under direct threat from the Islamist militia, and there was a need to chase them away from their borders. 

As Kenyan troops moved closer to the group’s last stronghold of the port city of Kismayu, the retaliatory attacks began from the border towns of Mandera, Wajir and Garissa. The group carried out deadly attacks on churches that nearly prompted religious violence in the country without forgetting the xenophobic attacks that were meted out against the Somali community suspected to be sympathisers of Al-Shabab activity. All these factors were among the numerous efforts by the group to retaliate in the most painful way.

But a change in tactics was something the Kenyan authorities were not expecting and hence Al-Shabab focused more on explosive devices, targeting security forces and grenade attacks (such as the Kampala bombings of 2010) and then the Westgate mall attack came as a surprise.

Anyone who thought Al-Shabab’s increasing attacks were the last kicks of a dying horse need to reverse their opinion. They have been forced out of their hideout in war-torn country and now are a multinational terrorist organisation.

Suspicious intelligence agency

In 1998, a new act of parliament in Kenya established the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) to replace the former Directorate of Security Intelligence which was commonly known as “Special Branch” and was part of the Kenya Police Department.

The NSIS brief, like all other intelligence organisations, was to gather and exploit secret information. It identifies conditions that threaten Kenya’s political, economic and social stability. It subsequently develops opportunities and strategies to neutralise such threats.

Kenya’s national intelligence was one of the most feared and active security arms of the government at the time of president Daniel Arap Moi. However, as time went by the organ’s ability to prevent matters undermining national security such as terrorism was doubtful due to the various political interests based on tribalism. Particularly after the 2002 general elections which led the country out of the KANU party era that ruled the country since independence from the British in 1963.

Their breaking of a promise to provide amnesty to those who surrender has catalysed Kenyans who are still among the ranks of Al-Shabab to wage a deadly, well-organised attack with the help of foreign fighters.

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