News / Africa

Analysts Debate Strength of al-Shabab

Mary Italo, center, grieves with other relatives for her son Thomas Abayo Italo, 33, who was killed in the Westgate Mall attack, as they wait to receive his body at the mortuary in Nairobi, Kenya Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013.
Mary Italo, center, grieves with other relatives for her son Thomas Abayo Italo, 33, who was killed in the Westgate Mall attack, as they wait to receive his body at the mortuary in Nairobi, Kenya Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013.
William Eagle
 
The attack on a mall in Kenya this week by a radical Islamic group came as a surprise to many. The Somalia-based al-Shabab had lost territory and influence over the past few years.  But as policymakers coordinate a response to the terror attacks, some analysts warn against an aggressive military response inside Somalia that could alienate locals, and increase support for extremists.
 
Since Kenya joined the African Union Mission in Somalia with the backing of Ethiopian troops, al-Shabab’s hold on southern Somalia seems to have weakened.
Its attacks seemed to be reduced to hit-and-run attacks or the use of suicide bombers.

Until now.

This week, several fighters attacked Nairobi’s Westgate mall with machine guns, grenades and other weaponry.  Al-Shabab claimed credit.

Some analysts say the change in tactics comes as the result of internal feuding between factions. They say hardliners want spectacular attacks on regional enemies that can also improve recruitment, while others, dubbed “nationalists,” want the focus to stay strictly within Somalia.

The hardliners are led by Ahmed Abdi Godane, who has quarreled with other members of al-Shabab and executed top commanders including American-born militant Omar Hammami.  He is said to have criticized the brutal treatment of fellow Muslims by al-Shabab’s occupying forces. ….

Reuters quotes diplomatic and Somali intelligence sources that say the attack may have involved Godane’s secret service, the Amniyat, which has its own chain of command and finances. It may also have included a Shebaab unit called Iktihaam, Arabic for “to storm in.”

Anneli Botha is a senior researcher with the Transnational Threats and International Crime Division of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.  She said al-Shabab has always been violent, and is not sure it’s necessarily a change in the group’s leadership that moved the group to an extreme.

"I don’t think the hardliners took control," said Botha.

"Gadane who is still the leader is still a hardliner, and the fight was not between moderates and extremists but between locals and foreigners. There were quite a few eliminations of foreign fighters considered to be potential traitors. Losing ground in Somalia led to suspicion between different factions of al-Shabab and that foreigners may be selling them out."

Yet, the purge within al-Shabab did not eliminate foreign participation. Botha said the Islamic extremist group relies on the participation of regional recruits to help plan and carry out attacks. She said, for example, that a Ugandan cell was instrumental in the 2010 bombings in Kampala that killed over 70 people. 

And Kenyan authorities say foreigners appear to be among those involved in the mall assault. Botha said her colleagues in Nairobi had also received tweets claiming to be from al-Shabab naming the nationalities of the attackers. Other news agencies have also received notes allegedly sent by the group. Most have not been independently verified.
 
"I don’t know how true it is, but [our Nairobi office] got a message from al-Shabab with more details on those responsible for the attack," said Botha. "I was amazed by the number of foreigners involved:  two Somalis, a Kenyan, a Swede, one from Finland, one from the UK, 6 from the US, one from Russia and two from Syria.

"If that’s verifiable information, then it’s not only the attack (which has an international flavor) but those behind the attack. With that come other questions: if we think al-Shabab cleaned house and went after foreigners, having such a large number of people involved that are foreigners is quite interesting. It’s still early days…But if it’s true, we have to do a very different analysis."

Observers say part of the effort to end al-Shabab is to dry up funding, which comes from a variety of sources. They include the Somali Diaspora, al-Qaeda, and revenues earned by the group from smuggling, taxes and revenues on the sales of dates, bananas and small livestock from the time it held the Somali port of Kismayu.

But analysts say there’s more, including a network of cultural and religious institutions in Kenya. They include a Kenya-based affiliate from Nairobi’s Majengo neighborhood called al-Hijra, which also has experience fighting in Somalia.

"All of these groups understand which buttons to push, and when," said Botha. 

"If I look at Kenya, there is a growing sense of the split between Nairobi and the coast. There is the Mombasa Republican Council that wants to secede because they feel they’ve been treated as second class citizens;  the same in Tanzania – with Zanzibar and Pemba that want to separate from the mainland. The root of all of this is effective nation building has not succeeded."

The attacks are likely to bring about change.

The press has criticized the performance of the immigration services and the Kenyan police.

Anneli Botha, who has held training workshops with law enforcement officers, said the issue of police effectiveness is not limited to Kenya.

"Every country on this continent has a problem with corruption," she said. "Some of them have massive problems with (civil service) salaries being paid: I think the police are often the poorest paid within the continent.  Similarly, in some cases the military do get better training and better equipment and salaries in some countries.

"All of these issues need to be addressed. I know Kenya is going through a new reconstruction process [of the political system] and police reform process. And I hope one could take these lessons and move forward. "
 
There’s also concern that the attacks may affect domestic politics.

The Hague-based International Criminal Court this week adjourned the court proceedings against Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto so he could return to help deal with the crisis. He and President Uhuru Kenyatta are being tried for their alleged roles in post-election violence six years ago.

Analyst Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, is concerned the attacks will move the focus from much needed political and economic reforms in Kenya.

"The ICC suspended the trial for this week, " she said. "This does not mean the trial should be cancelled, but my expectation is that Kenya’s political leadership will try to use this and the broader counter-terrorism agenda to end the ICC trial and find a way to avoid reforms to devolve power, to include groups that have been underrepresented, and they will try to use counter-terrorism cooperation as leverage for getting away with same old policies that are deeply unhealthy and destabilizing (for the country) in the long term."
 
There may also be calls for the US to take direct military action in the region.
Former Army vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli told American television that US forces are likely developing a list of al-Qaeda targets in the region in reaction to the mall attack. 

Some analysts assert that until now, the US has not placed as much emphasis on drone strikes in Somalia, as it has in Yemen and Pakistan. They say the Obama administration has avoided direct military involvement in Somalia to prevent retaliatory attacks on US diplomatic posts. Instead, analysts say the US shares intelligence and provides training and support for US allies in the region, including AMISOM troops in Somalia. The US also has the ability to deliver logistical support and equipment using air and sea routes, as well as a base in Djibouti.

President Obama has promised “whatever law enforcement help that is necessary”  including forensics teams and FBI resources to help with the investigation of the mall attack. 

But others, including analyst Anneli Botha, say the West would be better served by exploring the grievances behind local support for extremism.  They say an aggressive military reaction against the extremists could play into the hands of al-Shabab and al-Qaeda – who want to reshape local grievances into a global war between Muslims and Christians. 
 
Listen to analysts' views of al-Shabab attack on mall in Kenya
Listen to analysts' views of al-Shabab attack on mall in Kenyai
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

You May Like

Multimedia Baltimore 'Victory Rally' Follows Charges in Detainee Death

Saturday's rally is largest organized gathering since state's attonrey filed felony charges in police-custody death of Freddie Gray More

UN Denies Child Sex Abuse Cover Up in CAR

UNHCR says senior official suspected of leaking report suspended for breaching rules More

Nepal Officials Slammed Over Aid Response

VOA News has compiled from various organizations complaints from across Nepal of bottlenecks at customs, repeated harassing inspections of aid convoys and seizure of goods More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: khadar goray from: somali land
September 28, 2013 3:07 AM
the most and big problem of kenya isssssssss what they called democracy

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil Wari
X
Henry Ridgwell
May 03, 2015 1:12 AM
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video 'Woman in Gold' Uses Artwork as Symbol of Cultural Identity

Simon Curtis’ legal drama, "Woman in Gold," is based on the true story of an American Jewish refugee from Austria who fights to reclaim a famous Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II. It's a haunting film that speaks to the hearts of millions who have sought to reclaim their past, stripped from them 70 years ago. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.
Video

Video Taviani Brothers' 'Wondrous Boccaccio' Offers Tales of Love, Humor

The Italian duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies for half a century: "The Night of the Shooting Stars," "Padre Padrone," "Good Morning, Babylon." Now in their 80s, the brothers have turned to one of the treasures of Italian culture for their latest film. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Challenges Await Aid Organizations on the Ground in Nepal

A major earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday and killed thousands, injured thousands more and sent countless Nepalese outside to live in makeshift tent villages. The challenges to Nepal are enormous, with some reconstruction estimates at around $5 billion. Aid workers from around the world face challenges getting into Nepal, which likely makes for a difficult recovery. Arash Arabasadi has the story from Washington.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs