On Thursday, al-Shabaab gunmen stormed a university in Kenya, killing at least 147 people in what is now the worst attack to occur on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the United States Embassy in Nairobi.
The siege ended nearly fifteen hours after the Somali-based group’s gunmen shot their way into Garissa University campus in the pre-dawn attack. According to police chief Joseph Boinet, the attackers “shot indiscriminately” when they entered the university compound. Police later surrounded the campus and exchanged gunfire with the attackers however they were repeatedly repelled. According to Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery, four gunmen strapped with explosives were behind the attack – the same number of gunmen that killed 67 people during the 2013 attack on the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi. On the ground sources have disclosed that the militants spared the lives of Muslim students and took many Christian hostages. Officials have indicated that the death toll stands at 147 however they have warned that this toll is likely to increase in the coming days as officers search the campus. At least 79 people were injured, with many airlifted to hospitals in Nairobi. More than 500 students managed to escape. Troops continued to search the campus for any possible insurgents until the siege was declared over late on Thursday, with the national disaster operations centre disclosing that the raid had “ended with all four terrorists killed.” Officials have offered a US $215,000 bounty for the capture of alleged al-Shabaab commander Mohamed Mohamud, a former Kenyan teacher believed to now be in Somalia. He is said to be the mastermind of the Garissa attacks.
Hours into the raid, al-Shabaab spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack on the campus in Garissa, a town located 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the Somali border. The attack comes days after the Australian government warned that it had intelligence that the militant group was planning to carry out attacks in crowded places in the capital city Nairobi.
The latest attack in Kenya has prompted officials from that country, and neighbouring Somalia, to call for closer cooperation. On Friday, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud stated that Somalia and Kenya must boost security cooperation between them.
A video, purported to be by Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabaab, is urging Muslims to attack shopping malls in the United States, Canada, Britain as well as other Western countries. The video comes just days after the militant group carried out a major attack in central Mogadishu, which targeted ministers of the internationally-backed government.
The threat, urging attacks on Western shopping malls, came in the final minutes of a more than hour-long video in which the extremist group also warned neighbouring Kenya of more attacks, similar to the September 2013 assault that targeted the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi, in which 67 people were killed. The newly released video depicted footage from major news organizations showing the assault on the mall and said that it was in reprisal for alleged abuses by Kenyan troops against Muslims in Somalia.
The masked narrator concluded the video by calling on Muslims to attack shopping malls, specifically the Mall of America in Minnesota, as well as the West Edmonton Mall in Canada and the Westfield Mall in Stratford, England. The narrator, who had his face wrapped in a black-and-white scarf and was wearing a camouflage jacket, spoke with a British accent and appeared to be of Somali origin. Speaking in the video, the man stated, “what if such an attack were to occur in the Mall of American in Minnesota? Or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada? Or in London’s Oxford Street?” He then called for Britain’s Westfield shopping centre to be targeted.
In response to the video, US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has urged people to remain vigilant, adding that he took the threat serious. Speaking on morning talks show in the US on Sunday, Mr Johnson called the video “the new phase” of the global terrorist threat, stating “these groups are relying more and more on independent actors to become inspired, drawn to the cause and they’ll attack on their own,” adding “I am very concerned about serious potential threats of independent actors here in the United States. We’ve seen this now in Europe, we’ve seen this in Canada.” When asked about the specific threat against the Mall of America, Mr Johnson stated, “any time a terrorist organization calls for an attack on a specific place we’ve got to take that seriously. What we’re telling the public is you’ve got to be vigilant…. There will be enhanced security there that will be apparent, but public vigilance, public awareness and public caution in situations like this is particularly important. It’s the environment we’re in.”
A statement released by the Mall of America, which is located in Bloomington, Minnesota and which is one of the nation’s largest shopping centre’s, indicated that officials are “aware of a threatening video which includes a mention and images of the mall,” adding that additional security have been put in place. On the ground sources have reported that shoppers seemed undeterred Sunday by threat.
In Kenya, the government has dismissed the new video. Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka stated Sunday that al-Shabaab is “…using propaganda to legitimize what cannot be legitimized. When you lead a group to go and attack a shopping mall and kill innocent shoppers that cannot be legitimized, those were not soldiers…. Muslims also died in the Westgate attack. It’s in our interest to ensure Somalia is stabilized because the instability affects us. The video is cheap propaganda trying to re-write history and to get more support from those (who) support them.”
Although al-Shabaab has carried out attacks in neighbouring Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti, which all have troops that are fighting the extremist group as part of the multinational African Union (AU) force, al-Shabaab, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, has never operated outside East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Minnesota, which is home to the largest Somali population in the United States, has been the target of terror recruiters in the past. Since 2007, more than 22 young Somali men from Minnesota have travelled to Somalia in a bid to join al-Shabaab. Authorities have reported that within the last year a handful of Minnesota residents have also travelled to Syria to fight with militant groups operating in the region. At least one Minnesotan has died while fighting for the Islamic State group.
On Thursday, a 19-year-old Minneapolis man, who was stopped at a New York City airport in November 2014 as he ant three others were allegedly attempting to travel to Syria, was indicted on charges associated with supporting the Islamic State group.
The United States embassy in Uganda reported Saturday that Ugandan security forces have stopped a cell of al-Shabaab insurgents who are apparently “planning for an imminent attack.” On Monday, a Ugandan military spokesman confirmed that nineteen terror suspects were arrested over the weekend in a raid on an al-Shabaab cell that was supposedly plotting to carry out an attack in the East African nation.
A statement released by the US embassy Saturday disclosed, “Ugandan authorities reported the discovery of an al-Shabaab terrorist cell in Kampala,” noting that US officials “…remain in close contact with our Ugandan counterparts as investigations continue into what appears to have been planning for an imminent attack.”
Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga confirmed that forces had arrested nineteen foreigners on Saturday in connection with a foiled attack. On Monday, Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda disclosed that police seized “substantial amounts of explosives” and suicide vests from the suspects, who are all of Somali origin. The operations were carried out in the Kisenyi neighbourhood, which is known for its large Somali population, and targeted a hotel and a flat where the Somalis recently had moved.
In the wake of an imminent terrorist attack, US security forces have increased their patrols around major sites and have warned its citizens about travel to the country. Embassy officials have disclosed that “at this point we are not aware of specific targets, and the Ugandan authorities have increased security at key sites, including Entebbe International Airport….If you must move about, remain aware of your surroundings, avoid crowds, monitor local news stations for updates, and maintain a high level of vigilance.” The US embassy warning comes nearly a week after US embassy officials warned that al-Shabaab insurgents may try to exact revenge for a US strike that killed the militant group’s commander earlier this month. Last Monday, officials warned US citizens to “stay alert to the on-going potential terrorist attacks in Uganda…we also caution US citizens of the possibility of retaliatory attacks in Uganda by al-Shabaab in response to the US and Ugandan military actions in Somalia, which killed al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane.”
Uganda, which has troops fighting al-Shabaab militants in neighbouring Somalia, is currently on high alert amidst concerns that the al-Qaeda-linked militant group is planning to carry out a similar attack to the Westgate assault that occurred in Kenya last September. The country has in the past been targeted by al-Shabaab. In 2010, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for bomb attacks that killed at least 76 people who were watching a soccer World Cup final in Kampala.
Health officials in Nigeria disclosed Wednesday that a nurse, who contracted Ebola at a Lagos hospital, travelled to the eastern part of the country before falling ill, raising fears that the deadly outbreak may now spread outside of the southern city.
Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu has confirmed that the nurse had tested positive for Ebola, adding that the she had “disobeyed medical instructions,” that were given to hospital staff, by travelling to Enugu, which is a major city located in the eastern region of Nigeria. Sources have disclosed that the nurse was infected with the tropical disease while caring for Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian government employee who brought Ebola to Lagos on July 20. He died five days later while under quarantine at the First Consultants hospital in Lagos. After contracting the virus in Lagos, the nurse travelled with her husband to Enugu, where she fell six and was admitted to hospital. Medical staff in Enugu later transported her back to the special isolation unit in Lagos, where she is currently being treated.
While so far there have been no confirmations that she infected anyone in the eastern city, Information Minister Labaran Maku has disclosed that “21 persons in Enugu are being watched,” including the nurse’s husband, who has not displayed any symptoms. Nigeria has recorded 10 Ebola cases, including three deaths. While all the cases are currently in Lagos, a spread of the deadly virus across the country will place immense strain on the already weak healthcare system.
Kenya Classified as High-Risk for Spread of Ebola
Officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) have classified Kenya as a “high-risk” country for the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. To date, this is the most serious warning issued by the WHO that the deadly Ebola virus could spread to East Africa.
A statement released by the WHO’s country director for Kenya, Custodia Mandihate, indicated that the East African country was “classified in group two; at a high risk of transmission,” adding that Kenya was vulnerable as it was a major transport hub, with many flights coming from West Africa. In recent weeks, a number of measures have been set up in Kenya in a bid to prevent the deadly virus from spreading to the country. These include health checks at the main airport in the capital Nairobi. Despite receiving more than seventy flights per week from West Africa, the Kenyan government however has disclosed that they will not ban flights from the four countries that have been affected by the latest outbreak.
In the latest data released by the WHO on Wednesday, the number of people killed by Ebola in West Africa has risen to 1,069 with 1,975 suspected cases reported. Over a period of two days, there were fifty-six new deaths and 128 new cases reported in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone.
Armed men on a motorbike killed at least four people late Sunday in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa in an attack that left another eight people wounded.
According to Mombasa’s chief of police Robert Kitur, the attack occurred at 8:30 PM (1730 GMT) when gunmen on a motorbike shot and killed four people and injured a number others in the area of Soweto, adding that the identity of the killers remains unknown.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the shooting however on the ground sources have reported that the gunmen also handed out leaflets stating that the attack was in retribution for last month’s violence in Mpeketoni, a town located 300 km (185 miles) north of Mombasa. In June, more than sixty people were killed in two days of violence. Despite al-Shabaab claiming responsibility for that attack, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta blamed “local political” networks.
In recent months, Mombasa has been the scene of worsening unrest, with a string of shootings and bombings blamed on Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants or local sympathizers. The al-Qaeda-linked group has indicated that attacks carried out on Kenyan soil by al-Shabaab militants are in retaliation for Kenya’s on going military intervention in Somalia.
The attack in Mombasa comes just two days after another incident occurred on Kenya’s coast. On Friday night, seven people were killed when militants targeted a bus near the Kenyan holiday island of Lamu. Two police officers were amongst those killed. Responsibility for that attack was claimed by al-Shabaab, with the militant’s spokesman stating that the group was “ready to act or attack anywhere necessary within Kenya.”
Reconciliation Talks Begin in Brazzaville
Meanwhile the key players in the Central African Republic conflict launched new talks on Monday in neighbouring Congo. The talks are aimed at ending more than a year of sectarian bloodshed.
Congo’s President Deni Sassou Nguesso chairs the three-day forum, which will focus on reconciliation and political dialogue. Backed by a contact group, that will bring together some thirty countries and organizations, the latest talks aim to produce an accord by Wednesday that will effectively end the violence, disarm the fighters and set up a new framework for political transition. According to sources, this accord will eventually pave the way for a much-needed national reconciliation council that will take place in October in the CAR’s capital city Bangui.
Although some 170 officials from the CAR are expected to participate in these talks, including members of transitional President Catherine Samba Panza’s government, lawmakers, envoys from armed groups, political parties and civil societie, several political and religious leaders in the CAR have boycotted the talks, calling them to be held at home as the issue concerns the CAR and not the entire region. The lack of full representative envoys, coupled with the short time allocated for the talks, could hamper their chance of success. Previous peace summits held in Chad and Gabon have produced minimal lasting results.
The CAR has been in crisis since the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in March 2013. Months of atrocities carried out by rebels have sparked reprisal attacks by Christian vigilantes, with hundreds killed and thousands displaced. Despite French peacekeepers intervening in the former colony in December last year, along with a multinational force raised by the African Union, clashes between the rebels and vigilante groups have continued, with fears that the violence may result in a Rwanda-style genocide.