Killing Fields: Decimation of Online Jihadist’s and Recruiters by Kenyan Counter Terrorism Experts
The war on terror is perpetual and dynamic. A Critical study on Al-Qaeda’s branch in Somalia, Harakat Al-Shabaab Mujahideen (HSM) finds the group, in many ways, distinct from its predecessors, ‘The Islamic Courts.”
HSM like its parent Al-Qaeda, has protean ability to morph into different forms. Between late 2014 and 2016, Harakat Al-Shabaab Mujahideen (HSM) transformed itself to various forms demonstrating its protean ability. The most notable form was a virtual organization with a propaganda wing and cyber army.
The terrorists cyber outfit recruited massively in East Africa, began a propaganda wing that complimented the recruiting arm, and effectively attacked local media by waging a highly sophisticated psychological warfare against African Mission in Somalia AMISOM and the weak government in Mogadishu.
Eventually, both local and international media began publishing and distributing terrorist’s propaganda as news oblivious of the fact they were amplifying psychological warfare. Intelligence Services in Kenya took note of the threat posed by the terrorists cyber and I-War capabilities and the damage they were causing besides massive enlistment to join jihadists in Somalia by local youths.
With over 250 Facebook accounts and approximately 367 Twitter accounts as online propaganda distribution channels, Harakat Al-Shabaab Mujahideen (HSM) movement became the 1st ever Cyber Jihadi movement. However, Kenyan Intelligence Services reversed the terrorist’s gains between 2015 and 2016. All the 250 Facebook accounts and 367 Twitter accounts were killed. Over 10 jihadi propaganda websites disappeared after constant cyber attacks completely obliterating the enemy and his entire capability. What has been left in theater are few pro-jihadi voices that still command large following and trust.
This success by Kenya is noteworthy for a number of reasons. One, the Al-Qaeda’s branch in Somalia, Harakat Al-Shabaab Mujahideen (HSM) movement will pose a threat to Kenya’s national security and interests for a long time. Two, returning jihadists and defectors will be disfranchised thus still pose a threat to local communities. Thirdly, adapting and subsequent morphing into a new and adamant jihadists outfit is an ever present challenge. How online counter terrorism operations were successfully carried out by Kenyans is critical to a central assumption that any successful elimination of a jihadist outfit brings the global struggle against violent extremist to success.
Kenya has set a bar, and most partners will want to borrow a leaf. The consistency in Counter-Cyber jihad and the unique strategies employed by the intelligence services can be studied and re-engineered for counter terrorism operations in the affected regions.