Al-Shabaab Warns of Greater Focus on KenyaMay 22, 2014 in Somalia
One of al-Shabaab’s top commanders vowed Thursday to redirect the militant group’s war to neighboring Kenya, urging fighters to launch attacks.
In a radio broadcast, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, one of al-Shabaab’s most senior commanders stated “the war will be shifting to Kenya, if they kill a Somali girl we kill a Kenyan girl,” adding “we are urging all Muslims in Kenya…to fight the government of Kenya inside the country, because Kenyans killed your people including children.” Khalaf, who is viewed as second in command after chief Ahmed Abdi Godane, also noted “when their soldiers and war planes kill your people, God permits you to retaliate accordingly, we will fight the Kenyans.” This remark is likely linked to the recent air strikes that have targeted al-Shabaab bases in southern Somalia. The speech comes just days after fighters jets, believed to be from Kenya, struck al-Shabaab strongholds in southern Somalia earlier this week. The air strikes are part of the latest push by African Union (AU) forces against the militant group.
The United States has offered a US $5 million bounty for Khalaf, who holds both Somali and Swedish nationality. Khalaf, who the US says is both an al-Shabaab military commander and key fundraiser, reportedly spent over a decade in the Swedish capital Stockholm.
In the past few months, Kenya has seen a sharp rise in attacks on its soil, many of which have been linked to Islamist extremists. This rise demonstrates al-Shabaab’s shift in tactics, moving its focus partially from Somalia and more onto Kenya in the hopes that the Kenyan government will withdraw its troops from the Somali mission. This increase in attacks has prompted countries such as France, Britain, Australia and the United States to issue travel warnings. They have advised their nationals to avoid the coastal city of Mombasa and the capital, Nairobi. Last week, a double bomb attack in a Nairobi market left ten people dead and scores wounded, with more similar attacks likely to occur in the coming months.
On Tuesday, the AU force in Somalia confirmed that it had conducted new air strikes against a rebel base in the southern region of Somalia, the second air strike to be carried out in the past three days.
A statement issued by AMISOM indicates that its planes were after “senior leadership and foreign al-Shabaab fighters, at a base located near the town of Jilib, in Somalia’s Middle Jubba region. The statement also claimed that fifty insurgents were killed in the attack, which “further debilitated al-Shabaab’s capacity to wreak havoc and terrorize innocent Somali civilians.” A spokesman for al-Shabaab however has stated that only farmland was hit and that five civilians were wounded, adding “the claim of AMISOM is baseless and pure propaganda.” Witnesses in the area have reported that there were several civilians hurt, however they had not information on any al-Shabaab casualties. One local resident, Moalim Hassan, stated “we heard very big explosions as military jets flew over the town. Two of the bombs landed near Faragurow village leaving four civilians wounded but we don’t know about other casualties they may have caused.” The airstrikes on the town of Jilib are understood to be part of the offensive by the 22,000-strong UN-backed African Union force, who in March launched a fresh bid to gain control of the remaining towns under al-Shabaab’s control. The impoverished town is a key al-Shabaab hub in southern Somalia’s Middle Jubba region, and is located some 320 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of Mogadishu. It remains unclear where the jets are from, however Kenya, which is part of the AU force, has used its jets to strike al-Shabaab bases before.
Countries Issue Travel Warnings For Kenya as Terrorist Attack ContinueMay 19, 2014 in Kenya
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.