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Kenya Security Officials Probe al-Shabab Attack Motives

Security officials in Kenya are investigating possible motives behind Thursday's attack by Somalia's al-Shabab militants on a village on the Kenyan side of the border. The attack is the fourth such incursion by al-Shabab on Kenyan soil in three years.

The commissioner of Kenya's Northeastern Province, James ole Serian, tells VOA that suspected members of al-Shabab in two pickup trucks crossed the border early Thursday and attacked residents of a remote village near Kenya's border town of Liboi.

The gunmen wounded seven people, two of them seriously, before escaping back into Somalia. Ole Serian says it is not clear why the villagers were targeted.

"We have received some allegations that the family that was attacked was sympathizers of a faction that is opposed to al-Shabab. But the investigation is still on-going," he said.

Last month, al-Shabab militants were blamed for two attacks in Liboi. In early April, Somali gunmen believed to be al-Shabab, opened fire on a contingent of Kenyan paramilitary forces guarding the border. Two weeks later, a larger group attacked two hotels and several shops in Liboi before fleeing back into Somalia.

The provincial commissioner dismissed complaints by locals that Kenyan security forces are not doing enough to secure the border.

"We have really reinforced our security. In a long border, over 1,000 kilometers, we are likely to have one or two problems occasionally. But our security officers are working very hard to ensure that everybody living in Northeastern [province] is secure," he said.

The inhabitants of northeastern Kenya are mostly ethnic Somalis and refugees from Somalia's nearly two decades-long civil war. According to residents there, al-Shabab, a transnational extremist group with ties to al-Qaida, has in recent years been actively recruiting in the region and trying to enforce its Taliban-style rule among the population, sometimes through force and intimidation.

VOA sources in southern Somalia say al-Shabab suspects that some people in Northeastern (province) are supporting a former ally-turned-rival group called Ras Kamboni, which is seeking to take back the Jubba and Gedo regions of southern Somalia from al-Shabab control. Kenya's Northeastern Province sits across the border from Somalia's Lower Jubba region, and many Northeastern residents have clan ties to members of Ras Kamboni.

Other people in Northeastern Province are said to be supporting Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a, a collection of Sufi Muslim militias in Somalia that took up arms against al-Shabab in late 2008.

Al-Shabab also accuses Kenya, a key U.S. counter-terrorism ally in the region, of backing Ras Kamboni and other anti-Shabab militias in Somalia. Last week, al-Shabab's spokesman, Ali Mohamud Rage, repeated the group's threat to launch an attack in Kenya if Nairobi continued to interfere in Somalia.

The Kenyan government has consistently denied playing any role in the Somali conflict. But last year, international human rights groups alleged that Kenya, as well as al-Shabab, had illegally recruited thousands of ethnic Somalis and Somali refugees to fight in Somalia.

Since 2007, al-Shabab militants have steadily consolidated power in much of southern Somalia. The extremists' stated goal is to establish an ultra-conservative Islamic caliphate in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere around the globe.

Al-Shabab has vowed to capture the whole of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, but their efforts have been thwarted by the presence of 5,300 African Union peacekeepers protecting Somalia's U.N.-backed-but-weak Transitional Federal Government.

Ras Kamboni joined forces with al-Shabab in early 2009 as the most powerful faction of Hizbul Islam, a coalition of Islamist groups that also deeply opposed the pro-Western government. But last September, the Ras Kamboni faction fell out with al-Shabab over an administrative dispute in Kismayo, an important port city in Lower Jubba.

Two weeks ago, Ras Kamboni split from Hizbul Islam, following allegations by Hizbul Islam's leader, Hassan Dahir Aweys, that Ras Kamboni had signed a secret deal with Kenya and the Somali government.