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E. Africa Warns of Possible Terror Attacks During Holiday Season

Kenyan army soldiers sit in their armored vehicles. The Kenyan military says it's getting ready to push forward with its offensive against the al-Shabab insurgents, December 14, 2011.

Companies and officials in East Africa are strengthening security and issuing safety warnings during the Christmas season due to worries about possible al-Shabab attacks in public places. The Kenyan government says it received a credible threat to assassinate a Kenyan minister and deputy speaker.

Securex Agencies communication officer in Nairobi, Brian Sagala, says his company is struggling to fill the demand for extra guards, dogs, metal detectors and other equipment.

“We are selling more walk-throughs - those are the ones when someone just passes [through] it, it beeps. Most companies that even have our guards are asking for the guards to be given the hand-held metal detectors. And we are also having more queries, people just asking us, which is the right thing to put in my building to vet people when they are coming in,“ Sagala stated.

Sagala says the demand for such equipment started last month, following two grenade attacks in Kenya’s capital, and has accelerated.

The Kenyan government issued a warning advising people to be cautious during the Christmas season in shopping malls, hotels, places of worship and other public venues.

Kenya recently sent troops into Somalia, where they joined the African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM, to battle al-Shabab militants who had launched attacks inside Kenya. During the past few weeks, scores of al-Shabab fighters were reportedly killed by Kenyan troops in Somalia.

Two national newspapers are reporting a December 15 "Situation Report“ from the Office of the President claims al-Shabab operatives had instructions to assassinate Minister of State for Defense Yusuf Haji and Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim.

When contacted by VOA, Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said his government’s warning was only indirectly and distantly related to the alleged assassination threats and recent military battles. “We were going to do it [issue the warning] anyway. You know, just a normal, let us be careful during this holiday season. We have got some bad guys out there who do not really care much about human life,“ he said.

But Ugandan Army Spokesman Colonel Felix Kulayigye, whose country has troops in AMISOM in Somalia, says Kenyans have reason to worry.

“Of course, Kenya, being the latest entrant into the Somali fray, makes it the most recent target for al-Shabab. Certainly, Kenya is generally under threat from the al-Shabab bombing," Kulayigye said. "It therefore requires extra vigilance on the part of both the security agencies and the civilians.”

Kulayigye says the same situation applies to Uganda. “Oh yes, we have concerns. We have concerns, and indeed, we are extra vigilant,” he added.

Kulayigye says he thinks it is unlikely al-Shabab would specifically target the Kenyan minister and deputy speaker, rather preferring to carry out large-scale attacks in public places to cause panic and raise publicity. He says he received a death threat from al-Shabab last year, but the militant group instead bombed soccer fans watching the World Cup on television in a restaurant and a club, killing 74.