Analysts say there’s increased security among government and private businesses in Nairobi as news of potential terrorist threats fill the media.
This week, the trial of two Iranian men Ahmed Mohammed and Sayed Mansour began in Nairobi. They were arrested in June carrying several kilograms of RDX, a chemical used in making bombs. Authorities say the material was likely meant for attacks in Kenya.
Also this week, unnamed sources told the daily Star newspaper that an Iranian vessel suspected of carrying RDX is expected to arrive soon in Mombasa. The paper’s sources said the MV Padriz had docked at the port over two dozen times in the past year. The government has not commented on the allegations.
In the meantime, the Israeli embassy has warned that Tehran has mounted global campaign to attack Israeli and Israeli interests around the world.
According to the Star, the Iranian ambassador to Kenya called the accusations by Israel, the media and security officials “false and aimed at further tarnishing its international image."
The paper says Kenyan police have asked the public to remain vigilant and to report any unusual suspicious activity. Authorities also say the Somali militant group al-Shabab has an active cell in the country.
Albert Kasembeli of the Nairobi-based Security East Africa magazine said, “What we know about the two Iranians is that they were arrested in Mombasa after American intelligence reports tipped off local Kenya security forces to arrest the two. Through interrogation they confessed carrying explosive materials, and they led the police right from Nairobi to Mombasa where the police found 15 kilograms of an explosive making material called RDX.”
“They told security officials during interrogation that they had planned a series of explosions in the country,” he continued. “Later on from government sources, we were told they had specifically targeted American, Israeli, and British targets in the country and region.”
The analyst said bail for the two men has been suspended on the grounds of national security.
And, Kasembeli said security in the Kenyan capital has been tightened.
“Looking at the latest trends of terrorist attacks in Kenya and Uganda, the [terrorists] are going for soft spots, targeting areas with heavy human traffic, social places like hotels, bars, venues where people congregate like in public rallies…”
He said relations between Tehran and Nairobi are beginning to show some stress.
“The Iranian government has not responded to the trial [of the two men on explosives charges], but about two weeks ago Kenya had signed an oil deal with Iran,” he said. “Because of the international condemnation and because of oil embargo on Iran [Europe and the US], the Kenya government fearing an international condemnation cancelled the deal.”
The Nairobi-based analyst said Kenya has become a target of radical groups because of its close relations with the West and its involvement in the war in neighboring Somalia. Nairobi has sent troops to help defend the government there in its battle against the Islamic militant group, al-Shabab.
“Kenya has been targeted,” he said, “because of its involvement in the Somalia incursion. [Also], Kenya’s foreign policy has contributed to its being targeted by the terror network because of its association with the America and the West. This is not the first time Kenya has had a problem, even before the country went to Somalia it has been a target of terror attacks.”
In 1998, terrorists attacked US embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, killing 224 people and wounding nearly 5,000 others. Earlier this month, 17 people died in grenade attacks on churches in Garissa near the border with Somalia. The attack came within days of an assault on a driver and aid workers at the Dadaad refugee camp housing thousands of Somali refugees.
“You will also remember,” recalled Kasembeli, “the terrorist attack during the last World Cup in July 2010 caused the death of 89 football fans in Kampala. The attack was directly linked to the involvement of Ugandan soldiers in Somalia.
He said the coast of Kenya has often served as an entry-point for contraband materials. Kasembeli said the Kenyan navy and air force, along with NATO, are closely monitoring the area. Meanwhile, authorities are conducting random checks of containers at the port of Mombasa, according to the Star newspaper.
listen to interview with Albert Kasembeli of Security East Africa magazine