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US Terrorism Report Shows Close Ties with Kenya to Combat al-Qaida

The State Department's annual report on global terrorism highlights growing U.S. security ties with its east African ally, Kenya, to meet challenges posed by al-Qaida and al-Qaida supported militants in neighboring Somalia. One key effort is focused on keeping terrorists from being able to smuggle in materials to make a "dirty bomb."

The State Department report, released Thursday, contains an overview of the expanding security ties between the United States and Kenya, aimed at preventing terrorists from staging attacks inside Kenya and apprehending suspected terrorists.  

In the past year, the United States says it helped the Kenyan army develop a Ranger Strike Force, an elite counter-terrorism unit capable of conducting operations against infiltrators and armed groups.  The United States also gave training and unspecified equipment to the Kenyan navy for maritime interdiction operations in Kenyan waters.

The State Department's Antiterrorism Assistance program also provided training and equipment to the country's Maritime Police Unit.  The report says the U.S. military's Djibouti-based Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa is currently installing a Maritime Security and Safety Information System in key positions along the Kenyan coast.

The measures are largely in response to threats posed by two al-Qaida operatives, who allegedly carried out the 1998 attacks on U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.  U.S. intelligence analysts say the operatives, Comoros-born Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Kenyan national Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, have eluded capture through the help of al-Qaida's support network in the coastal region of Kenya and in parts of the capital, Nairobi.

The rising power of a militant group called al-Shabab in neighboring Somalia has also added a new security challenge in the region.  Al-Shabab, which currently controls key towns in southern and central Somalia, was founded several years ago by al-Qaida-trained Somali radicals and is virulently anti-West.

The leadership of al-Shabab is widely acknowledged to be strengthening its ties with al-Qaida. There are credible reports that al-Qaida has operatives in various parts of Somalia teaching al-Shabab fighters techniques to carry out suicide and roadside bombings.

In mid-April, Kenya signed a deal, which will allow the United States to install radiation sensors and other equipment at its busy Mombasa seaport to detect any nuclear or radiological materials that could be smuggled in to be used in a weapon. When completed in several months time, the Mombasa port will join some 20 others in the world participating in the so-called Megaports Initiative set up by the U.S. government in 2003.  

An expert on nuclear proliferation at the RAND Corporation in the United States, Brian Jenkins, says because of its proximity to Somalia and its close ties to the West, Kenya is vulnerable to the worst-case scenario, where an al-Qaida terrorist unleashes a "dirty bomb" in Nairobi causing the death of thousands.

"We do know that al-Qaida has nuclear ambitions," he said. "We discovered documents that underscored their interest when we overran some of these al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan in late 2001.   Actually building a nuclear device is difficult.  But the acquisition of radioactive material for a so-called 'dirty bomb,' which is radioactive material that is dispersed with a conventional explosive device, that is not that challenging.  So, yes, there is a threat particularly of the use of radioactive material, although we have no specific evidence indicating any capability at this time."

Efforts to combat terrorism have not been without controversy.  The U.S. and Kenyan governments were harshly criticized by human rights groups for the illegal detentions of at least 150 people in 2006-2007 as terrorist suspects.  The rights groups say at the request of the United States, Kenya sent many of the detainees to Somalia and Ethiopia, where some of them were tortured and held incommunicado for months.  

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