Terror’s new playground: Al-Shabab descends on Kenya

Garissa (Caasimada Online) – Terror ensues in northern Kenya as the extremist group, Al-Shabab, intensifies its activities across the region.

An unprecedented escalation of attacks within a month signals that these militants, under pressure in their native Somalia, have found a new stomping ground in Kenya’s north.

In less than 30 days, six ruthless attacks have marred Garissa, Wajir, and Mandera counties.

Tragically, 11 security officers have been killed, seven wounded, and at least five civilians injured in these assaults. The most devastating of these unfolded on June 13 when eight officers on patrol met their end in Bodhei, Garissa County.

Their vehicle, targeted by an al-Shabab landmine, was reduced to rubble.

The same day, gunmen, believed al-Shabab operatives, attacked a bus en route from Nairobi to Mandera in Tarbaj, Wajir County, leaving three passengers injured.

Beyond borders: A shifting battlefront

In a further show of force, the al-Qaeda-affiliated militia recently overran an African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) base in Buulo Mareer, Shabelle.

The coordinated attack involving explosives and suicide bombers claimed over 50 soldiers’ lives, with many others kidnapped.

The bordering North Eastern region of Kenya now appears to be their focus. “Many AS members have crossed into Mandera as they run away from the ongoing crackdown in Somalia,” warned Mandera County Commissioner Amos Mariba.

Meanwhile, Wajir Governor Ahmed Abdullahi views the improved vegetation and recent rainfall as contributing factors, providing ideal conditions for the militants.

The fallout: Refugees and smuggling cartels

Amid increased US-led attacks and civilian vigilance in Somalia, many militants are reportedly seeking refuge in Kenya.

In Wajir, resident Halima Siad has pointed to the government’s border reopening plan as a cause for the surge in attacks.

“Their illegal activities will be affected,” Siad says, linking the violence to smuggling cartels fearing interference with their operations from Nairobi to Kismayo.

Yet, while cartels may be implicated in the violence, the national government is mounting a formidable response with a Sh20 billion security budget, as Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki announced.

Tightening the border: A defensive strategy

Kenya is bolstering its border security with Somalia as part of its comprehensive response. The nation has constructed 14 fully equipped forward operating bases along the border, set to play a critical role in the phased reopening of border points in Mandera, Lamu, and Garissa.

Kenya remains on high alert, with Somalia’s aggressive crackdown on al-Shabab since last year causing many militants to seek refuge in Kenya.

According to North Eastern Regional Commissioner John Otieno, these militants have infiltrated at least four sub-counties in Wajir alone.

Local communities are integral to the Kenyan government’s strategy, helping track terrorists moving from Somalia to Kenya.

“Patriotic elders have undertaken to work with us to defeat terrorism,” Mr. Otieno said after a meeting with clan elders and religious leaders.

However, not everyone trusts this approach. Mandera resident Mr. Hassan Gure warns against blind trust.

“Most of the al-Shabab militants are locals who understand our environment very well; some are our sons. How does the government know it’s dealing with a genuine person?”

The rising tide of collaboration between locals and militants, fueled by fear of reprisals and high poverty levels, continues challenging counter-terrorism efforts.

This worrying trend signals an urgent need for action to mitigate the burgeoning terror threat on Kenya’s northeastern frontlines.