And how it might mark Easter too…
In one of those calendar coincidences this year the Holy Month of Ramadan coincides with Easter. The Holy Month is the ninth month of the Muslim year and a time for fasting, prayer, reflection and community which then culminates in the Eid al-Fitr festival. It moves back in the calendar each year so sometimes it might coincide with Easter or other religious festivals. In 2030 there will even be two Ramadans in one year, each running through the Christmas/New Year period around the start and end of the year.
Terrorists and Ramadan
Terrorists groups that claim Islamic authority such as Somalia’s al-Shabaab and its masters, al-Qa’ida, or al-Qa’ida’s rejected offspring, ISIS/Da’esh or its Nigerian subordinates, Boko Haram, have their own spin on Ramadan. In one of the many ways in which these groups warp existing ideologies to suit their dark purposes, al-Shabaab and its ilk believe that fighting and dying during the Holy Month guarantees a better place in heaven – hence a general spike in their activities.
So countries that live with the scourge of these groups can expect to see an increase in attacks – suicide attacks, car bombings, attacks on government and security forces, assassinations of prominent figures. Some days – the 17th, the odd numbers in the 20s – are the ‘best’ days for attacks, they claim. Bombarded with this nonsense are vulnerable young men and women whose lack of education, literacy and the ability to think critically means they fall for a perversion of Islam (there are plenty of verses of the Holy Q’ran and even more Hadiths that make it very clear that killing people, especially during Ramadan, is deeply sinful). You will never find the leaders of these groups strapping on a suicide vest, of course.
Happy Easter from al-Shabaab?
In Sri Lanka in April 2019 another terrorist group that claimed Islamic authority, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, mounted a series attacks across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday that killed 289 people and injured over 500. (ISIS/Da’esh claimed the attacks but there is no evidence that the two groups are linked – but the truth never gets in the way of these groups claiming an atrocity.)
This is why you might notice a slightly enhanced security forces presence this weekend. Kenya is a predominantly Christian country (although its Muslim population is well integrated – have a look at the cabinet). It also contributes to the African Union mission in Somalia (recently renamed ATMIS after being called AMISOM for 15 years) which fights al-Shabaab. There is no point in pretending that Kenya’s border with Somalia is impenetrable to terrorists – there are regular cross-border attacks against the security forces in Mandera, Garissa, Wajir and Lamu. It could happen…
What to watch out for
Without wishing to spoil your Easter Egg Hunt, many terrorist attacks are foiled because everyday people spot something odd and report it – a young couple renting a house and paying cash six months in advance, someone buying oddly large amounts of chemicals or renting large cargo vehicles. (Terrorist attacks have been foiled in the past few years because a landlord, an agricultural supplies company owner and a vehicle rental clerk all smelled a rat and reported their suspicions.) So watch out for odd incongruities, like a group of men in long heavy coats carrying back packs when it is sunny and hot.
Don’t fall into the trap of diving off the restaurant balcony just because someone’s phone rings and the ringtone is an Islamic recitation, though – it is the Holy Month for Muslims, after all. Remember that al-Shabaab deliberately recruits Kenyans these days who aren’t even Muslims (although they do forcibly convert them), never mind Kenyan-Somalis. Al-Shabaab knows that the security forces still, sadly, look for stereotypes. But the chances are an attacker isn’t going to look like Osama Bin Laden. He might not be a ‘he’ either. Also remember that Kenya’s security forces have improved remarkably over the years and that this has a deterrent effect – Kenya might just be too difficult for al-Shabaab now, if we all work together to make it that way.
And, finally, don’t let this spoil your holiday weekend. That is what terror groups want, to disrupt normal life (the killing is just a means to achieving that). Just keep your eyes and your ears open.
After all, there are Easter Eggs to find.