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.
As the FIFA World Cup football tournament kicks off in Brazil, security warnings have been issued for a number of African countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. UK officials have also issued warnings for Djibouti, stating that they have credible intelligence that al-Shabaab insurgents may be planning to carry out further terrorist attacks against targets that include “Western interests.”
East African nations are currently on high alert over fears that Somalia’s al-Shabaab may launch attacks on World Cup screenings over the next month. Previous attacks throughout the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed. Crowded areas, including hotels, restaurants and bars and transport hubs are possible targets.
There is currently a high threat from terrorism throughout Ethiopia. Attacks could be indiscriminate and can occur at any moment, including in places that are frequented by foreigners. Previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed.
There is a high threat from terrorism in Kenya, mainly from al-Shabaab. The militant group has issued public threats against Kenya, due to the country’s military intervention in Somalia, and has recently stated that they are shifting the war and will now focus on Kenya. There have been a number of small-scale grenade, bomb and armed attacks in Nairobi, especially in the Eastleigh district, Mombasa and Northern Eastern Province. Methods of attacks have included shootings and bombings, including car bombings, as well as the use of grenades.
Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo has promised “sufficient security measures” to ensure the safety of fans, however he has noted that bar owners must take their own precautions, stating, “owners of such social places must ensure that every person is thoroughly screened before entering their premises.” Attacks could be indiscriminate and will likely occur in places that are frequented by foreigners, including bars, sports bars, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, sporting events, supermarkets, shopping centres, beaches, buses, trains and transport hubs.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whose country is a key contributor to African Union (AU) forces fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia, has cautioned fans “to be alert as they enjoy football, bearing in mind that the country is threatened.” A statement issued by Ugandan security forces has urged that people are screened prior to viewing soccer tournaments. The move is being enforced in a bid to avoid a repeat of attacks that occurred four years ago during the World Cup final, when al-Shabaab militants bombed two restaurants in the Ugandan capital, killing at least seventy-six people.
Officials in Britain warned earlier this week that al-Shabaab insurgents are planning further attacks in Djibouti, after last month’s suicide bomb attack on a crowded restaurant. According to a statement released by the UK Foreign Office, “there are credible reports that al-Shabaab plan, and have the capability, to attack targets in Djibouti, including western interests,” adding “there is a high threat from terrorism” in the port city. The statement further notes “Djibouti and Western interests within Djibouti may be seen as a legitimate target by al-Shabaab because of its support to the Somali government and its participation in the African Union peacekeeping mission.”
Djibouti has troops deployed in Somalia, as part of the African Union force that is battling the militant group, however the Horn of Africa nation’s port also serves as a key base for ships taking part in international anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. Last month, at least one person was killed and several others wounded when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a restaurant, the first attack in Djibouti to be claimed by al-Shabaab since the country joined the AU force in 2011. Days after the attack, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility and indicated that the attack was carried out in retaliation for Djibouti’s hosting of the United States’ largest military base in Africa, which is used for operations across the region, including drone strikes against Islamists in Somalia. France also has a base in Djibouti.
Nigerian officials have taken additional steps in order to prevent any World Cup related terrorist attacks from occurring. Soldiers in the capital of Yola, Adamawa state, have shut down all venues preparing to screen live World Cup matches in the hopes to stave off attacks. The Nigerian government has also advised resident of the capital city, Abuja, to avoid public viewing centres. Minister Bela Mohamed has issued a directive for Abuja, ordering high vigilance in places such as motor parks, restaurants, markets, supermarkets, shopping malls, banks, churches, mosques, hotels, viewing centres and hospital.
While over the past five years, the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa have seen a number of deadly terrorist attacks, in recent months, Boko Haram militants have carried out an increasingly bold series of assaults, which has included the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in April. Since then, the militants have carried out a number of attacks on villages, including a recent car bomb that was set of at a centre in the settlement of Gavan, in the north-eastern state of Adamawa. O June 1, at least eighteen people watching a game on television were killed. A week before that incident, a suicide bomber set out for an open-air screening of a match in Nigeria’s central city of Jos. His car blew upon the way, killing three people. Such assaults on television viewing centres across Africa have raised fears that militant groups will target supporters gathering to cheer on the global football contest.
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.
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.