NAIROBI, KENYA - Five police officers have been killed and three others reportedly injured after suspected al-Shabab militants attacked two security camps in Kenya's northeastern Mandera county, that shares a border with Somalia.
The attack comes barely a month after suspected al-Shabab militants killed three people in Wajir, a town also on the Kenya-Somalia border.
Friday's early morning attack occurred at the Kenya Police and Administration Police camps in Fino town.
The National Police Service issued a statement Friday saying more than 100 suspected al-Shabab terrorists attacked the camps at approximately 2 a.m. local time, killing four of its officers as well as a reservist.
According to the statement, an "unknown number of the terrorists are believed to have been killed while others sustained serious injuries." It said police had identified Jamaa Nuh Abdille as leader of the attackers, adding "we are hot on their trail."
Attack was anticipated
Abdi Rizak, a member of the Mandera County Assembly who works 40 kilometers from Fino, said rumors of a pending attack had been circulating for two weeks.
But local residents are skeptical about working with police, fearful that "the government will say they are part of al-Shabab" if they have information to share, Rizak said.
George Musamali, a security analyst in Nairobi, said local communities in Mandera are critical in the fight against terrorism and should not be ignored.
"We have very many sympathizers of al-Shabab within the local population and then we have another group that is not sympathetic to al-Shabab, that is willing to share information with the security agencies," Musamali said. "And there is no way we can fight terrorism or any form of crime without collaborating with members of the local community. In security, we call this popular intelligence."
Friday's attack could have been avoided, the analyst suggested. He said police had been given information about "this imminent attack," including "the name of the ring leader of the group" suspected in the assault.
"Clearly, this was a well-planned and coordinated attack," Musamali said, "and it calls into question the measures that have been put in place by the Kenyan government to secure that part of the country."
Al-Shabab has frequently attacked Kenya, hitting civilian targets in retaliation for Kenya's involvement in military action against the group in Somalia.
On February 15, Al-Shabab militants – who oppose Western-style schools and universities – killed three teachers in Qarsa village, setting off an exodus of instructors in the Horn of Africa country's northeast.
Following the attack, Kenya’s Teachers Service Commission (TSC) gave educators the option to transfer from the region.
Kenyan lawmaker Rashid Kassim Amin told VOA Somali that in Wajir County alone, at least 145 primary and secondary-school teachers have left.
Amin accused the central government of failing to protect teachers and of succumbing to Al-Shabab’s efforts to divide communities.
"There are not enough soldiers," Amin said. "The government opted to contribute troops to AMISOM" – the African Union Mission in Somalia – "but inside the country, a town with a school and businesses does not have one soldier.”
The slain teachers were Christians or “non-locals,” as they are known in Kenya.
Amin, who said 60 percent of non-Muslim teachers already have left, says the government is falling into an Al-Shabab trap by allowing non-local teachers to leave the region.
"What we are seeing is that already the government has succumbed to the message of Al-Shabab to divide Kenyans along ethnic lines and along religious lines,” he said.
Officials say non-locals account for half of the northeast region's primary teachers and 70 percent of those at the secondary level.
Kenya's interior minister, Fred Matiang’i, visited the region this week to reassure teachers that the government was working to protect them.
The Teacher Services Commission could not be reached for comment.
Domino effect feared
Nur Bardad, secretary general of Kenya National Union of Teachers in Wajir, said his union evacuated up to 54 teachers from villages near the Somali border in Wajir South, Wajir East and Kutulo.
Bardad warned that teacher desertion would negatively impact the region: “If teachers leave this land, there will be illiteracy.”
Amin said he feared that non-local workers in other fields – including nursing and construction – would follow suit and leave. He urged the government to protect residents by securing the border with Somalia, preventing Al-Shabab militants from crossing into Kenya and de-radicalizing youth through education and employment.
Meanwhile, he urged the government to set up centers with armed security forces to safeguard teachers "so that the people can feel secure."
VOA Somali Service's Harun Maruf contributed to this report from Washington.