Is al-Shabaab becoming bolder?

Author:Collins, Tom

Al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based organisation terrorising both Kenya and Somalia appears to be getting bolder in the scale and scope of its attacks. Meanwhile, the local and foreign forces pitted against it seem to be pulling in different directions. Report by Tom Collins in Nairobi.

Two reasons were given by al-Shabaab, Somalia's feared terrorist organisation, for its deadly attack on a US-Kenya military base in Kenya's northeastern Lamu County in January.

One was that it was a response to Washington's designation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The group also cited its long-held desire to reclaim land near the Somali border, which it claims was stolen from the Muslim population by the Kenyan government and non-indigenous Christian ethnicities from southern parts of the country.

A chilling warning was issued by the group's spokesman Sheikh Ali Dhere, who urged Christians to flee the counties of Garissa, Wajir and Mandera: "Muslim teachers, doctors, engineers, and young graduates from the north-eastern province are unemployed. Isn't it better to give them a chance? There is no need for the presence of disbelievers."

Along with frequent attacks on vehicles, shops, homes and telecoms infrastructure, the jihadist group has violently disrupted education as a means to reinforce the local population's marginalisation from the Nairobibased government in the richer south.

Hundreds of schools have closed following repeated attacks on educational facilities, which have often killed non-local teachers, and created further problems for a region that frequently suffers climate-related disasters.

Much of the population in the north-east is of Somali descent and a small minority support the al-Qaeda-affiliated group.

Some see them as a regional service-provider, whereas others support al-Shabaab's ideological goal to replace the Mogadishu government with an Islamic state.

"There has been a rapprochement between the local population and al-Shabaab as of late," says Stig Jarle Hansen, associate professor of international relations and an expert on African jihadist groups at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

"My local sources say that their infiltration into north-eastern Kenya is growing rapidly. You can see several leaders having to deal with al-Shabaab and having dialogue with them because they are getting stronger."

Local cells

The localised and mostly Kenyan al-Shabaab cell, Jaysh al-Ayman, claimed responsibility for the attack in Lamu...

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