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Northern Kenya Attacks May Shed Light on Country’s Security

FILE - Kenyan policemen hold their position while patrolling the Kenya-Somalia border near the town of Mandera. A string of attacks earlier this month have raised safety concerns about in the Mandera region.

There was more violence in northeastern Kenya Monday, as two civilians were killed when Kenyan military officers fired on a car in the Mandera region. Other incidents have raised concern about safety in the region, where al-Shabab militants from Somalia are known to be active.

The Mandera region in far northeastern Kenya has experienced a rash of attacks in recent weeks.

On December 21, al-Shabab militants shot at a passenger bus and then attempted to divide the passengers into groups based on religion – Muslim or Christian. Six days later, militants killed two police officers and injured several others.

The next day, Kenyan soldiers shot and killed two motorists they suspected of carrying weapons. Three others were injured.

This violence is only the most recent in a region of Kenya that borders troubled Somalia. A year ago, al-Shabab gunmen killed 28 non-Muslims traveling by bus to Nairobi.

Richard Tuta is a homeland security and counter-terror expert in Nairobi.

“So, those who are intending to attack those areas, they have realized that there are some soft spots, there are some gaps which are existing within the security systems, in Mandera,” he said.

Some of those gaps may be the result of the Kenyan intelligence community’s limitations when it comes to quickly acting upon information.

Mwenda Mbijiwe, chief executive of Eye on Security, a Nairobi counterterrorism consulting firm, said that proper resources have not been allocated for intelligence officers, who work without weapons or handcuffs.

“So they are still operating like they were two, three years ago, where they see the suspect and just point at him,” said Mbijiwe.

Tuta said that with the splintering of al-Shabab militants into Islamic State and al-Qaida supporters, the factions were competing to sustain their relevance.

And this, he said, helped to explain the recent surge of attacks in Mandera.

“So, when they compete against each other for relevancy and for permanence, they become more lethal, and that’s why you can see that all of a sudden there is an increase in the numbers of attacks,” said Tuna.

Additionally, Tuta said these attacks may be a sort of decoy to distract the security forces from other locations.

“So that all of the attention now is focused in Mandera, then we leave a soft belly in Nairobi, Mombasa, or our own major town, for them to carry out a very major attack,” he said.

That said, Mbijiwe with Eye on Security argues that Kenya’s security community has worked hard to stay ahead of terrorists.

“For instance, since the mid of last year, there has not been a single terrorist attack in the city of Nairobi. Prior to that, there were always sporadic attacks. Just about two weeks ago, there was an attempted bombing of a public bus but it didn’t hurt, it didn’t kill anyone, and so there has been tremendous improvement,” said Mbijiwe.

And for Kenyans throughout the country, they hope the improvement continues.