The Kenya Forum | Al-Shabaab: Kenya's terror threat level and what's to be done - The Kenya Forum

November 8, 2011


“We urge greater vigilance, of course, but we agree with Mutuma Mathiu, the Daily Nation’s Managing Editor, who wrote, ‘The intention of Al-Shabaab is to terrify us. The only way to defeat them is by not being afraid and getting on with our lives’.”

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Al-Shabaab: Kenya’s terror threat level and what’s to be done

Al-Shabaab – “A current and credible threat” in Kenya

The Al-Shabaab issue “is like a big animal, with the tail in Somalia and the head of the animal is hidden here in Eastleigh”, Internal Security Assistant Minister Orwa Ojedeh declared to parliament. It was an interesting analogy if you think about it. If Al-Shabaab’s “tail” is in Somalia and Kenyan forces have, presumably, just stepped on it by invading southern Somalia, what will the “head’ do?

That Kenya and Nairobi in particular are jittery at the prospect of possible terrorist attacks following the onset of ‘Operation Linda Nchi’, there is no doubt but to what extent is there a credible threat? And are we prepared?

As The East African reported (October 24-30 issue), ‘Islamist militants in Somalia have vowed to take revenge on Kenya’. The newspaper quoted Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys ‘a noted Islamist who is listed by the US as a terrorist’ as saying, “Kenya has joined the list of occupiers of another country’s land, and history will tell what happens to their aggression”, and he vowed, “We shall fight Kenya on all fronts possible”.

The Daily Nation declared (October 27) that, ‘A security cordon has been thrown around the country as the government moves to thwart possible terrorist attacks by Al-Shabaab’. Security patrols had been enhanced, the paper reported, ‘especially in government offices, public places and major highways’.

The same report said that ‘owners of shops, hotels, restaurants, bars and public transport in Nairobi had hired security officers armed with metal detectors to screen patrons and passengers.’

That this is at least to a certain extent true we all know, as evidenced by the queues of cars entering shopping centres and airports, for example, awaiting a search, although the Kenya Forum notes that the check points at Jomo Kenyatta and Wilson Airports still seem to be operating as bribery points with little realistic effect on improving security.

The Standard on Saturday raised concerns under the headline, ‘Attacks in City point to critical security lapses’, reporting that ‘experts’ were calling ‘for programmes to train the public on security management’.

The Kenya Forum was however, somewhat skeptical of the idea raised by one ‘expert’ in the Standard, Simiyu Werunga, Chief Executive of the African Centre for Security and Strategic Studies. Mr Werunga called for the training of civilians on how to deal with “security issues” (fair enough says the Forum). He went on to suggest, “We have people like cobblers, hawkers, guards and newspaper vendors, who are always on the streets. Training them on how to profile individuals will improve the public’s alertness as to what is going on and neighbourhoods” (unlikely says the Forum).


So how serious is the threat from Al-Shabaab terrorism within Kenya’s borders and if there is a threat, what should be done? The Kenya Forum spoke to a ‘former special forces officer’ and ‘a security analyst’ based in Nairobi who gave their assessment of the situation.

“There is a current credible threat against Kenya from Al Shabaab”, the former told the Kenya Forum, noting that Al-Shabaab have declared that “we will destroy your skyscrapers and ruin your tourism”.

“It is well known”, he said, “that if Al-Shabaab says they will do something, they will follow it through”. To give just one example, “In May of this year Al-Shabaab stated that anyone caught watching or playing football would be punished. Six weeks later a suicide bomber detonated himself, killing 74 people in Kampala watching football.”


He noted that the advantage was to a large extent with the would-be terrorist, quoting the Irish Republican Army (IRA) from the nineteen eighties. When talking to the British government they stated that, “you need to be lucky all the time [to avoid a terrorist attack], we only need to be lucky once!” referring to how much easier it was to attack than defend.

Given the real threat of an attack he stressed concerns that the country’s internal security arrangements were as yet not robust enough.

“Nairobi should be on its highest state of alert”, he said, “and whilst people are being searched going into Nakumat, Kenya is not doing enough to prevent the real and obvious threat of terrorist attacks,” such as to, “Tall buildings in Nairobi include the Hilton, which is both a skyscraper and accommodates many tourists.”

The ‘former special forces officer’s’ recommendations were to, “spend what it takes to defend the obvious. Start putting up large rewards for information that leads to an attack being averted. Get the people of Kenya to start working towards their own defense. The Kenyan state, or any state for that matter, can’t do it on their own.”


The threat is by no means confined to Nairobi, as a ‘security analyst’ told the Kenya Forum.

“We have already seen NGO workers being taken from the area of the Dadaab refugee camp”, he said, “including one man working for CARE and two women working for Medicine Sans Frontierre. This shows how easy it is to do (unless you are taking precautions) and also shows how comfortable Al-Shabaab is at operating outside of the Somali borders.”

“There have been several confirmed sightings of Al-Shabaab cells on the road into Dadaab as well as fatal attacks on motorists traveling on this route”, he continued.


The ‘security analyst’ told the Forum that he “had a theory” that “that could be on the agenda” based on the weight of information coming in, of a possible attack by Al-Shabaab on the Dadaab IDP facility, targeting workers foreign and local. “This could be an Al-Shabaa ‘flag’”, he said, in which, “they capture it [Dadaab], kill as many as possible and when a counter attack is launched, they withdraw.”

The ‘security analyst’s’ recommendations were to strengthen the buffer between the border and the Dadaab camp.

He suggested, “Irregular patrols of well armed soldiers in large numbers” and, “Apply more air assets to the area, tied this in with men on the ground with an intercept capability.”

At the same time, he suggested, “Strengthening the access to the camp. Fence it, patrol with dogs and greatly increase the numbers of armed guards stationed there.”

The Kenya Forum says that our security forces cannot be everywhere, nor can private guards, and nor can even constant vigilance by the Kenyan people stop every attack.

We urge greater vigilance, of course, but we agree with Mutuma Mathiu, the Daily Nation’s Managing Editor, who wrote, ‘The intention of Al-Shabaab is to terrify us. The only way to defeat them is by not being afraid and getting on with our lives’.


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