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 Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs