Following a wave of attacks and unrest, which have been linked to Islamist extremists, a number of countries have increased their warnings against travel to Kenya’s port city of Mombasa. Australia, Britain and France have advised their nationals to avoid the coastal city. These travel advisories however will also likely deal a new blow to Kenya’s already embattled tourism sector as avoiding Mombasa complicates travel to the nearby beach resorts.
Last week, Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) became the latest country to warn its citizens against “all but essential travel to Mombasa,” citing “recent terrorist attacks and the continuing terrorist threat in the area.” Australia has also updated its travel advice, urging its nationals to “reconsider their need to travel” to both Mombasa and to the capital city, Nairobi, which has also been targeted by a number of bombings in recent weeks. Meanwhile France has advised against all non-essential travel to Mombasa city, and has urged extra vigilance during stays in the nearby beach resort of Diani, which is situated to the south of the city.
In the wake of the British Foreign Office’s heightened travel alert, officials and tour operators confirmed Friday that hundreds of British tourists were being evacuated from beach resorts near Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa. Special charter flights have been organized just days after Australia, Britain, France and the United States issued new travel warnings for Kenya’s coast following a wave of attacks and unrest, which has been linked to al-Shabaab militants.
Meanwhile Thomson and First Choice, which are owned by London-listed TUI Travel, Europe’s largest tour operator, has also indicated that they have decided to cancel all flights to the coastal city until November 2014. A statement released by Thomson and First Choice stated “as a result of the change in FCO advice, the decision has been taken to cancel all our outbound flights to Mombasa, Kenya up to and including 31 October,” adding “as a precautionary measure, we have also taken the decision to repatriate all customers currently on holiday in Kenya back to the UK.”
In the wake of these new warnings, the Kenyan government has expressed “disappointment” and has accused countries that are telling tourists to stay away of “unfriendly acts.”
On Thursday, Kenya’s Foreign Ministry gave an angry response to the warnings. A statement released by the Kenyan government stated that “the advisories…are obviously unfriendly acts coming from our partners who have equally borne the brunt of global terrorism and no doubt understand the repercussions of terror,” adding “issuance of such travel advisories only plays to the whims of bad elements in society whose aim is to spread fear and panic.” Last month, Kenyan officials confirmed that the number of foreign visitors to the country, which is a top safari and beach destination, had declined by 11 percent in 2013. The current year is expected to also see a massive drop, particularly in the wake of the September 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, which was claimed by al-Shabaab.
Despite opposition from the Kenyan government, the threat of terrorist attacks in Kenya remains high, as evidenced by the latest attack, which was carried out on Friday.
Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Centre confirmed Friday that at least ten people have been killed and seventy others wounded in two explosions that occurred in a busy market area of Nairobi. According to officials at the center, the first blast occurred on a 14-seater matatu, or public minibus, while the second occurred inside Gikomba Market, which is situated to the east of Nairobi’s central business district. Sources have indicated that two people have been arrested near the scene of the explosions.
Security officials in Somalia confirmed Tuesday that a suicide bomber had struck a vehicle packed full of explosives into a hotel in a southern town, just days after it was recaptured by Government forces from al-Shabaab. According to security official Sulieman Adam, “there was a suicide attack involving terrorists at a hotel in Buulo Burde,” where African Union (AU) peacekeepers and Somali army commanders were staying. According to the official, the blast happened at 02:00 local time (23:00 GMT) with fighting continuing until about 07:00. About fourteen people, mainly fighters from both sides, were killed, with another twenty-four wounded and taken to hospital.
A spokesman for al-Shabaab has confirmed that the militant group was behind the attack, stating that thirty AU and army commanders had been killed. Authorities however have yet to comment on the attack. Reports have indicated that communications to the central Hiran region went down not long after the fighting and gunfire ended.
The attack on the hotel in the strategic central town comes after the militants lost control of Buulo Burde last week. It was captured as part of an on going AU and government offensive against al-Shabaab, which continues to control much of southern and central Somalia. On the ground sources have indicated that al-Shabaab had occupied Buulo Burde for more than five years. The town, which has a strategic bridge over the River Shabelle and is at a crossroads linking various regions of the country, was an important base for al-Shabaab.
The incident in Buulo Burde came as a convoy of African Union’s AMISOM force was targeted by a car bomb just outside the Somali capital on Monday. The attack took place near a checkpoint on the road linking Mogadishu and the town of Afgoye. A witness reported that “…a suicide bomber rammed his car into an AMISOM convoy,” adding that “there was a heavy explosion at the Alamada area…, we don’t know about the casualties but I saw military ambulances rushing to the scene.” A Somali military official, Omar Adan, confirmed the attack however declined to give the number of casualties. Mr. Adan blamed militants from al-Shabaab, stating “al-Qaeda linked militants, who have lost ground, are attempting desperate attacks.”
Although al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that seven Burundian peacekeepers and five American nations travelling in the vehicles were killed on Monday afternoon, AMISOM spokesman Col. Ali Adan Humad has denied that there were any casualties. Monday’s attack came just days after a car bomb went off in central Mogadishu near a hotel popular with government officials and businessmen. Saturday’s attack injured at least one person, however so far no claims of responsibility for the attack have been made.
In February alone, major attacks in Mogadishu have included a car bomb at the gates of the airport, a major suicide attack on the presidential palace and a car bombing on a café located close to the intelligence headquarters.
Meanwhile, Kenyan police authorities indicated Monday that they had arrested two men who were driving a vehicle packed with explosives in the Indian Ocean resort city of Mombasa. According to Henry Ondiek of the Mombasa Criminal Investigation Department, “we have not established where the target was, but we have detained two terror suspects who were in the vehicle,” adding “we were tipped off that the two were headed for an attack on an unspecified place and we laid an ambush and got them.” One police source indicated that the two men were of Somali origin, signalling that they were likely members or supporters of Somalia’s al-Shabaab militant group. According to Kenyan police, two homemade bombs were found in the vehicle, along with a mobile phone, which could have been used as a detonator. The arrest of the two suspected terrorists comes after Kenya’s top security chiefs warned last month of “increased threats of radicalization” from home-grown Islamists, singling out Mombasa’s Musa mosque as a specific centre encouraging extremism, along with two others. Over the past several years, Kenya has suffered a string of attacks, which have all been blamed on al-Shabaab, including the September 2013 massacre in Nairobi’s Westgate mall in which at least sixty-seven people were killed.
In Nigeria, suspected Boko Haram militants carried out an attack on a school in northern Nigeria.
At least twenty-nine students have been killed in Nigeria after suspected Boko Haram militants attacked a boarding school in the north-eastern region of the country. According to on the ground sources, the remote school, which is located in the state of Yobe, was attacked overnight when students were in their dormitories. All the twenty-nine victims were teenage boys while another eleven were seriously injured. Most of the school was also burned to the ground. Although no further information has been released, Nigeria’s military announced on Tuesday that it was pursuing the attackers. A statement released by the military stated “we assure all law-abiding citizens that we will continue to do what is necessary to protect lives and property.” President Goodluck Jonathan has since condemned the killings, calling them “heinous, brutal and mindless.”
Over the past year, Islamist militants have attacked dozens of schools in north-eastern Nigeria. Last September, forty students were killed at an agricultural college during a similar raid which was also carried out at night. Although the Nigerian government launched military operations in May last year to end Boko Haram’s four year insurgency, Nigeria’s armed forces are currently facing increasing criticism for their failure to protect civilians and to respond to the raids carried out by militants.
Meanwhile a court in Kenya dropped charges on Wednesday against forty-one men and released on bail twenty-nine others who were arrested earlier this month during a raid on a mosque, which has been accused of supporting Islamist extremists.
On 2 February, police raided Mombasa’s Musa mosque, detaining seventy men whom officials accused of attending radicalisation meeting. The raid on the mosque sparked deadly rights in the port city. The seventy men were all initially charged with being members of Somalia’s al-Shabaab along with a number of other charges, which included possession of firearms and inciting violence. However on Wednesday, Magistrate Richard Oden-yo ordered forty-one of those charged to be set free due to a lack of evidence. The remaining 29 suspects were released on bail, which was set at 500,000 Kenyan shillings (5,800 dollars; 4,200 euros each. The releases came just one day after Kenya’s top security chiefs warned of an “increased threat of radicalization” from home-grown Islamists, singling out the Musa mosque as a specific centre encouraging extremism, along with two others.
Piracy at sea is at its lowest level in six years, with 264 attacks recorded, a 40% drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011.
The drop in worldwide piracy attacks has greatly been due to the dramatic drop of incidents recorded in waters off Somalia. In 2013, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported fifteen incidents off Somalia. According to its records, this is down from 75 in 2012 and 237 in 2011. The increase of armed guards on vessels, coupled with international navy patrols and the “stabilizing influence” of Somalia’s government have aided in deterring pirate. According to Pottengal Mukundan, IMB’s director, “the single biggest reason for the drop in worldwide piracy is the decrease in Somali piracy off the coast of East Africa,” adding that “it is imperative to continue combined international efforts to tackle Somali piracy. Any complacency at this stage could re-kindle pirate activity.”
The IMB’s annual global piracy report has indicated that more than 300 people were taken hostage at sea in 2013 and 21 were injured, nearly all with guns or knives.
Examining global piracy figures, Indonesia witnessed the most pirate attacks last year, accounting for more than 50 of all reported incidents. However it must be noted that attacks in waters of Indonesia were “low-level opportunistic thefts, not to be compared with the more serious incidents off Africa.” Piracy off West Africa made up 19% of attacks worldwide in 2013. According to the IMB report, Nigerian pirates accounted for 31 of the region’s 51 attacks. These attacks were “particularly violent,” with one crew member killed, and thirty-six people kidnapped and held onshore for ransom.
In November 2013, a United Nations and World Bank report indicated that pirates operating off the Horn of Africa, which are some of the world’s busiest shipping and humanitarian aid routes, had netted more than US $400 million (£251 million) in ransom money between 2005 and 2012.
Meanwhile in neighboring Kenya, the trial of four men charged over the Westgate shopping centre siege began in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
The four suspected foreigners have denied the charges of aiding a “terrorist group,” and of being in Kenya illegally. However none of the men – named as Mohammed Ahmed Abdi, Liban Abdullah, Adnan Ibrahim, and Hussein Hassan – have been accused of being the gunmen who carried out the attack. While their nationalities have not been disclosed, they are said to be ethnic Somalis.
Police officials in Kenya have also indicated that the four accused had sheltered the attackers in their homes in Eastleigh a Somali neighbourhood in Nairobi, and that they were in contact with the gunmen four days prior to the siege being carried out.
During the first day of the trial, the court heard testimony from security guards who saw what happened when the gunmen launched the attack in September 2013, killing at least sixty-seven people. During his testimony, guard Stephen Juma told the court that he had been directing traffic outside the upmarket shopping centre when a car pulled up and three men jumped out. According to Mr Juma, one of them immediately shot dead a shopper, adding that “I began to hear gunshots, I made a radio call for help while running to the main entrance.” Mr Juma further noted that he could not identify any of the gunmen as their heads and faces had been covered with black headscarves.
The four are the first to be charged over the attack, which was the worst in Kenya since 224 people were killed in the 1998 bombing of the US embassy. Reports have indicated that around forty witnesses are expected to give evidence at the trial, which is likely to last around a week.
Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab confirmed days after the siege at they were behind the attack, indicating that one of its suicide brigades carried out the siege. Although al-Shabaab is fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in Somalia, the militant group has on numerous occasions carried out attacks in neighboring Kenya in a bid to avenge the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia to bolster the UN-backed central government.