Al Shabaab the al Qaeda affiliated terror organization headquartered in Somalia has without a doubt been at the helm of recent reports as scholars and analysts reiterate the intermittence of its attacks as well as pending downfall. The group, which previously held a major pull in the East African region especially in Kenya and Somalia has lost its lethal appeal and it has been replaced by a desperate group seeking its former ‘glory’.
Al Shabaab’s reach in Somalia especially, has dwindled as they face rivalry from ISIS as well as relentless anti-jihadi campaigns from Somali and allied troops’ ground aerial bombardments. The group has been suffering major losses in terms of personnel, appeal, funding as well as infrastructure and networks that aid in their attacks.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the group’s leadership has been seeking to project an illusion of strength and reach that they currently have by conducting attacks away from home base. The group has always boasted of having active cells in the East African nations and in recent months it has sought to activate them to boost its reach and popularity.
The Republic of Kenya’s unique social, cultural, religious, political, psychological, and economic aspects factor the emergence of diverse genera of terrorists. Al Shabaab having identified that has been seeking to exploit that to restore its status by conducting attacks in the country’s capital. To exemplify, in January, the Odeon Grenade incident, the US terror alert, and the Dusit attack to show that Al Shabaab is seeking to conduct attacks in Kenya using Kenyan youth as well as sleeper cells. Most recently, on February 25th Kenyan security agencies arrested five youth in Kenya’s Eastlands area with grenades, media and other resources that indicated a likely cell planning attacks in the Kenyan capital. The five were aged between 19-30 years and come from Kenya’s Luo and Kikuyu ethnicities.
There has been a steady rise in the number of arrests, recovery of material and weapons with a questionable origin and which can be traced or is linked to al Shabaab among youths in different parts of Kenya. Moreover, unlike previously where the youths or individuals arrested in relation to al Shabaab were distinctly Muslims or ethnic Somalia, the demographical composition of al Shabaab-associated arrests has changed. Most recently, youths from the Mt. Kenya, Western and Nyanza regions have been arrested for taking part in terror activities or planning attacks on Kenya’s populace.
Al Shabaab is seemingly reverting to old tactics and methods in its quest to restore its status as the most lethal arm of Al Qaeda. Intelligence reports indicate that al Shabaab has been using sleeper cells that have been embedded in Kenya to conduct attacks as they cannot transport its fighters from Somalia seeing as their movement is limited by counterterrorism campaign of allied troops. They include the use of local gangs and criminals to conduct attacks as well as spy. Previously, al Shabaab used local gangs and criminals like the MRC in Mombasa to conduct attacks a move that is appearing to recur recently as they appear to use local criminals, especially in Nairobi’s Eastlands region to further their agenda. Exploiting local conflicts and sectarian tensions where they sort to ignite sectarian animosity especially after the Odeon grenade attack as well as the Dusit D2 hotel complex attack. Despite, their dwindling financial capabilities, al Shabaab has mastered the art of luring youth with meager amounts of money to either join al Shabaab or conduct attacks on behalf of the terror organization.
Kenya has proved to be a formidable opponent against the al Shabaab menace and it has employed a wide range of holistic counterterrorism strategies and capabilities to deal with the militants and reduce its reach in the country:
- Community policing and Nyumba Kumi initiative is a strategy that empowers the community to be actively involved in the country’s security and has been credited for numerous arrests of al Shabaab members.
- Intelligence sharing and reduced inter-agency bureaucracy have allowed for the thwarting of many would-be deadly terror attacks in Kenya.
- Military operations especially Linda-Boni has enhanced Kenya’s security by blocking the major route for al Shabaab militants’ entry into Kenya from Somalia.
- Counter-psychological oppression approach that concentrates on winning the hearts and brains of the populace has been a win as it has addressed some of the social and cultural injustices that enable radicalization.
- Counter-cyber strategies that track online jihadis, recruitment among other online activities by the al Shabaab.
- Devolution and decentralization of resources that offer more opportunities to vulnerable youths in at-risk counties and regions
- The Anti-Terror Police Unit that exclusively deals with thwarting and responding to terror threats posed by the al Shabaab.