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

Video Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs