News / Africa

    Kenya Attack Unlikely to Build Al-Shabab’s Swahili Speaking Base

    A resident holds a sign as he participates in a protest against the recent attack by gunmen in the coastal Kenyan town of Mpeketoni, June 17, 2014.
    A resident holds a sign as he participates in a protest against the recent attack by gunmen in the coastal Kenyan town of Mpeketoni, June 17, 2014.
    Harun Maruf
    Deadly attacks this week in Mpeketoni, Kenya have left many wondering what Somali militant group al-Shabab hoped to accomplish with the killings.  Experts say the attacks – for which the group quickly claimed responsibility – are unlikely to broaden the militants’ support base among Swahili-speakers in Kenya or the region.
     
    Roland Marchal, senior Research Fellow at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, says this kind of “havoc violence” does little to advance the group’s political aims or gain recruits.
     
    “Whether they want to prove that they are able to learn from ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] in Iraq or other groups in Syria, I believe they already made the case, they killed so many innocent people for nothing,” Marchal says.  “You could have strategy to deteriorate the relations between Christians and Muslims in Kenya, but what they have been doing over the last year with some scale, this kind of violence is not readable that way, because you kill people who have absolutely no say in anything, so the point is lost in this mass killings.”
     
    In recent years al-Shabab has made significant success in infiltrating East Africa and recruiting followers who either go to Somalia to fight alongside the group or carry out operations in nearby countries, including Kenya.  Some experts put the number of east Africans who work with al-Shabab at more than 1,000.
     
    But Marchal said the attack in Mpeketoni also undermines the group’s strategy for creating more support in the region.
     
    “Over the last year, after their leadership crisis after June, Shabab sent back Swahili speakers back into East Africa, mostly Kenya, and the purpose was not to get rid of non-useful fighters inside Somalia but try to bring military or terror experts to these countries and hoping those trained people will be able to build branches or new movements that would imitate Shabab, “ he says.  “They have been successful to certain point in Kenya.  So why act in a way that is contradicting the strategic plans made by the Shabab leadership?”
     
    The Somali militant group said it carried out the attacks to avenge the killing of Muslim scholars in the Kenyan city of Mombasa, which it blames on Kenyan security forces.
     
    Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said al-Shabab was not behind the Mpeketoni attacks, which he described instead as politically motivated ethnic violence.  
     
    Experts say they believe Al-Shabab was involved directly or indirectly.
     
    “Without knowing what lies behind the president’s words, it’s entirely possible perhaps, even likely that al-Shabab affiliate al-Hijra which is comprised of mainly non-Somali Kenyans would have been involved in this attack because it required local knowledge, it required understanding local politics and dynamic and it required people to be able to survey the target and to plan the operation without being detected in rural areas, where strangers would have been noticed,” said Matt Bryden, director of Sahan Research, a think tank in Nairobi, Kenya.
     
    Al-Hijra was created in 2008 in Kenya.  In 2012, the group merged with al-Shabab when al-Hijra leader Ahmed Iman Ali gave his allegiance to al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane. 
     
    The merger means that al-Shabab could claim responsibility for the Mpeketoni attacks, even if al-Hijra  carried them out, according to Bryden.
     
    But he adds that Swahili-speaking al-Shabab supporters have been with the group for years, and are capable of carrying out the attacks.
     
    Other experts have raised questions whether there are other hidden forces that may have carried out the attack.  Some hinted at involvement of the Mombasa Republican Council, a group with separatist tendencies.  
     
    Experts also say the attack required intricate planning that would not be work of an amateur organization.
     
    “The attack required a well-organized, apparently trained and quiet disciplined force,; it required considerable planning and it required large numbers of weapons, and either explosives or incendiaries,” Bryden says.  “There is no other group in Kenya that is known to possess those capabilities.  So either this is what appears to be an al-Shabab - al-Hijra attack or some as yet unidentified group has been able to put together force of this nature with its capabilities under the noses of Kenyan intelligence and police which would represent a remarkable intelligence failure. “
     
    Experts believe a combination of security and political measures could turn the tide against the group.
     
     “The point is what the Kenyan authorities are and international community is going to do?” asks Marchal. “Are we going to keep a policy that provides Shabab with the means to get regional or are we trying to curb that by getting back to politics… [Authorities need] to keep acting on the security side but also to bring into the discussion some elements of new policies, dialogue and take on board social consideration that has been completely lost for years in Somalia and in the region.”
     
    All governments in the region need to stop the radicalization of Muslims, according to Marchal.
     
     “What I see the strategy followed by al-Shabab is to get radicalized Muslims who are not yet violent or not yet thinking about terrorist tactics to use them and to boost them, and to cross the red line so they will have no solution except to join or to work with al-Shabab.  This is the current situation in Kenya. This is why we need much more sophisticated [responses] from the Kenyan state.”

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora