Tag Archives: al- Shabaab

Kenyan Terrorism Evolves: The Emergence of al- Hijra (Muslim Youth Center)

1 Jun

 

On Friday, May 16, 2014 hand- made bombs left inside a matatu (mini-van) exploded In Gikomba Market located on Jogo Road, Nairobi, an outdoor market famous for the sale of second-hand clothes. Gikomba is frequented by working- class Kenyans trying to stretch their paychecks by buying their clothes on the cheap. This time 10 Kenyans were killed and upwards of 70 people injured- ordinary citizens on their way to work or engaged in bartering for goods and services together. Store fronts were destroyed and several cars demolished during the fray as people fled the scene seeking to avoid the flying shrapnel intentionally packed inside the bombs. Sadly this has become a common event in Nairobi during past year. According to the United States Embassy Kenya has witnessed a dramatic escalation in home-related terrorism during the past two years. An estimated 100 people have been killed in terrorist-related mass shootings, grenade attacks, and bombings in the past eighteen months alone.

Gikomba Market is a mere four miles away from the Westgate Mall but culturally its wooden kiosks are a world away from the sleek, ultra-modern multi- level designer stores frequented by British and Americans residing in the Westlands. In September 2014, 67 people were killed in a terrorist attack reportedly carried out by a group of young Somali men and women- part of the youth group known as al- Shabaab. But days afterwards, subsequent eye-witness accounts of this bloody massacre painted a much different picture of the terrorists responsible for shooting non- Muslims on the floor of the mall that day. According to several first-hand testimonies the armed combatants did not physically resemble Somalis, spoke Swahili like Kenyans, and knew their way around Nairobi quite well- in other words these were home-grown terrorists rather than the imported kind. The name al- Hijra, a Kenyan affiliate of al- Shabaab suddenly entered the media pool and its reputation as a Kenyan organization of Islamic terrorists spread throughout the country. These latest attacks did not target Europeans living in Kenya or tourists on safari at the Mara or sunning themselves on the shore. No, these attacks were deliberately made against the Kenyan people by disgruntled Muslim youth seeking to harm the rest of Kenya in retaliation for injustices that have brought on this rage as a result of religious intolerance.

To understand why one needs only consider the current unrest out on the streets of Mombasa namely the open hostility between police and Muslim youth especially those residing in Majengo, a crowded Mombasa slum. 4.3 million Muslims make up 11.2 % of the total population of Kenya with the largest population of Muslims living along the coast especially within the city limits. Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya after Nairobi and Kenya’s most famous seaside resort area. Mombasa, is also a very ancient island of trade, only 575 miles from the Somali border which has always supported a multi-national population but in recent years this hodgepodge of cultures has become divided down the middle into Christian – Muslim groups after a myriad of shootings and riots have left its citizenry on both sides distrustful and afraid of one another. Muslim clerics around Africa have openly called for a holy war (jihad) against Christians continuously during the past five years and where in the past both sides displayed a modicum of tolerance when interacting with one another spontaneous church shootings of communicants during Sunday services have left Christians resentful and more than willing to support the actions of the police.

And so the Kenyan police – never a proponent of tolerance in the best of times has now targeted the entire Muslim population of Mombasa in their attempt to rid Kenya of terrorists rekindling memories of the KweKwe Death Squad – a special police force created to rid Nairobi of the fearful mungiki sect during the 2007 presidential elections. Dozens of Muslim families have reported the mysterious disappearance of loved ones- husbands and sons to the police only to receive no response or little information on their whereabouts. Human rights activists have accused Kenya’s Anti -Terrorist Police Unit (ATPU) of holding men in secret locations after charging them with crimes of terrorism without adequate proof to substantiate these charges. The Mombasa Republican Council has publically accused the Kenyan government of deliberately marginalizing Islamist citizens. Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) have voiced their position that the police have deliberately targeted Muslim youth in Mombasa for arrest continuing to violate their human rights throughout this secret “No Justice” campaign.

Three Muslim clerics suspected of supporting al- Shabaab and recruiting young boys have been systematically assassinated in Mombasa as a result of mysterious drive- by shootings beginning with the well- respected Aboud Rogo in August 2012 who was shot dead in his car while his wife was wounded in the leg. In October 2012, Ibrahim Omen suffered the same fate while Abubakar Shariff Ahmed renamed “Makaburi” died from gunshot wounds only last month, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, sprayed with bullets from a passing car on the steps of a north Mombasa courthouse as he waited for a ride home making violence and retribution the order of the day.

On February 2, 2014 police raided Musa mosque in Majengo on a Sunday morning after hearing that worshippers had raised a black and white flag in honor of al- Shabaab decorated with two automatic weapons pointing in opposite directions. This mosque has served as a center for Somali terrorists where young Kenyan boys have been recruited to leave for Somalia to train with al- Shabaab. Outside of al- Shabaab itself , Kenya sends more young men to Somalia to train as terrorists than any other country in Sub- Saharan Africa. The inhabitants of the mosque defied the police’s orders to disband and quickly became violent throwing stones at the police who eventually shot into the crowd. This heated altercation quickly turned into a riot after one man inside the mosque was killed by the police during the raid.

On March 23, 2014 6 Christians were killed and twenty others wounded in a Sunday morning church service in Likoni (near Mombasa) only days after two Somalis were charged with terrorism once police determined a car in their possession had been filled with explosives.

The Kenyan Muslim Youth Center (MYC) now called al- Hijra was originally founded in the Eastleigh slum, a Somali- rich section of Nairobi in 2008 by Ahad Iman Ali who has since changed his name to Abdul Fatah and moved his entire operation to Kismayo, Somalia. Sometime in 2012 al- Shabaab, established as a Somali youth group reached out to al- Qaeda establishing much tighter relations to all North- African Islamist terrorist organizations. At the same time al- Shabaab began creating closer ties with its neighboring affiliates- uniting smaller cells in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi while training their members in the art of terrorism within its camps in Somalia using seasoned instructors trained by al- Qaeda to do this. These teachers imparted a certain sophistication that had been lacking in their previous attempts producing more qualified terrorists and adding the use of social media to keep members sufficiently informed and on the move. Their choice of weapons and techniques gradually improved as well. Although al-Hijra began with a barrage of clumsily planted grenade attacks they soon learned these explosions would not produce the desired results. They soon moved on to more lethal explosions building home- made bombs easily stored inside backpacks and left in public vehicles and highly traveled places. Members of al- Hijra were even linked to the Kampala, Uganda bombings that killed innocent party- goers during the World Football Finals in South Africa during July of 2010. In 2011, The United Nations Monitoring Group on Eritrea/ Somalia warned that a home-based terrorist group trained by al- Shabaab was planning to carry out large scale attacks in Kenya and other areas around East Africa.

Most of the animosity visited against Kenya has been motivated by its military involvement in Somalia. On Sunday, May 19th, 2014 al- Shabaab militants killed at least 12 people as a result of an ambush in northern Kenya right after Kenyan jets bombed an explosives compound southwest of Mogadishu and three of al- Shabaab’s camps nearer to the border with Kenya. Kenya’s troops have also pushed al- Shabaab from the coastal city of Kismayo costing the terrorists millions of dollars in potential fees and business deals. Both terrorist organizations al- Hijra and al- Shabaab have vowed to keep up their violent attacks against Kenyans until the Kenyan government withdraws its troops from Somalia even threatening to implement “kidnapping for ransom” schemes on Americans residing within the country. What effect this will have on Kenya’s economy only time will tell? Recent unrest in Mombasa has led European tour companies to pull tourists out of Mombasa at one of the peak times of the year. Safari season will begin soon as well. The United States government has issued a travel warning against Kenya but this has been in place for a very long time ever since I began serving there in 2005. I fear things will only get worse for the Kenyan people unless the Kenyan military is able to defeat and capture the remaining members of al- Shabaab and very soon. So far the border between Kenya and Somalia is much too easily crossed for my liking.

Kat Nickerson                                Kingston,                Rhode Island

Allied Democratic Forces Take Charge in Eastern DRC: Why This? Why Now?

28 Mar
ADF    FoxNews.com

ADF FoxNews.com

 

On Friday, January 17, 2014 the Congolese army (FARDC) successfully drove soldiers in the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) from the city of Beni, North Kivu Province backed by the UN’s 3,000 strong  “Intervention Brigade” assigned to subdue all rebel activities occurring throughout Eastern Congo.  This happened after the same Congolese forces secured the city of Kamango the day after Christmas once ADF troops had claimed it the day before. While attacking the city ADF soldiers burned down buildings, wounded many residents, and were responsible for over fifty deaths causing the populace of the city to flee in terror. But the reason for this take-over is still a mystery. The members of ADF are no strangers to the people of Kamango having settled into this area themselves many years ago. Could it be that with the surrender of the M23 rebels from the same region ADF leaders have moved in to take over the lucrative illegal gold trade between the DRC border towns and Uganda? And once the ADF militia has been subdued who’ll move in next to control the smuggling operation?

But who are the ADF and where did they come from? Originally it was composed of a small band of rebels from Uganda who settled in the rugged terrain of the Rwenzori Mountains lying between the countries of Uganda and the DRC. These rebels espoused a specific Islamic ideology known as Tablighi prevalent in the Sudan. In time, their cause- reclaiming the Ugandan government brought them in contact with another group of rebels known as the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU). This rebel group had also been pushed into the DRC by the Ugandan army when the DRC was known as Zaire and under the dictator, Mobutu’s control. Many of NALU members were Islamic Ugandans but there were others who had lost their political clout and /or personal fortunes once Museveni and his freedom fighters secured Kampala and ousted anyone connected with the former dictators Obote or Idi Amin. In time the ADF/ NALU morphed into one group. That happened in the mid- 1990’s but by all accounts the ADF camps reported on in recent years have dramatically changed their goals and it seems that retaking the government of Uganda is no longer a top priority for them. Plus after having been forced out of Uganda by the Ugandan army the ADF established permanent camps moving into the Congo- side of the Rwenzori Mountains for good. It’s estimated that as much as 60% of ADF’s current fighting force is composed of Congolese rather than Ugandan nationals now.

The Ugandan NALU integrated into the Nande community in Eastern Congo settling near the city of Beni. Their leader Enoch Nyamwise became a famous Nande politician who was contracted by the dictator Mobutu during the first war in the Congo and used his men to patrol the border between the Congo and Uganda. As the revolution raged on Nyamwise and his men became heavily invested in both legal and illegal activities as they began trading with neighboring villages in Uganda and it is said that it was these contacts between Congolese rebel militias and the Ugandan army that served to establish the first gold smuggling routes. By the time the ADF joined them they began augmenting their smuggling revenues by adding “kidnapping for ransom” ventures, mineral mines, logging industries, taxis, and borda-borda drivers to their economic empire.

Eventually most of the village militias on both sides of the revolution morphed into political parties after the wars in the Congo ended but the militias attached to each party never formally disbanded and remain armed and active to this day. This easy access to organized groups accustomed to using violence to get what they want has had a significant impact on the continuation of the war-like atmosphere pervasive throughout all of Eastern Congo.

By the time the year 2000 arrived gold smuggling had become “big” business in Beni. In 2013, the Enough Project reported that 98% of all the gold illegally leaving Eastern Congo was being sold out of Uganda specifically mentioning the actions of one Major Helaire Kembi, a former officer in the Congolese Army who deserted his post along with many of his men to head a highly lucrative gold smuggling operation in the area. One Congolese official confessed that gold worth millions of US dollars crosses the border into Uganda each and every day making it an extraordinarily profitable venture. Right now there are at least 15 different rebel militias operating in the Beni region alone- all jockeying for trading rights to the gold but it seems that M23 managed to gain control of the largest portion of the operation less than one year ago.

Then everything changed; the United Nations Intervention Brigade entered the fight and the Congolese Army began defeating M23’s troops so much so that M23  formally surrendered in November of 2013 ending their 20 month rebellion. Colonel Makenga and his men took refuge in Uganda where they still remain so what has happened to their gold smuggling operation? And around this same time ADF began changing its image from a small, local militia of less than 1,500 men into something far more dangerous.

Intelligence videos made by Ugandan operatives showed ADF troops engaged in formal training sessions led by men suspected of having connections to the Somali terrorist organization, al- Shabaab. According to the African Defence Review Burka –clad women were also observed living in certain Rwenzori camps while helicopters began making regular supply deliveries.
Rumors that new ADF recruits had been sent to Somalia to train began circulating throughout the area. It was common knowledge that the ADF continuously received funds from the UK, Kenya, and the Sudan but these monies had never been thought to be that significant. Then their troops were spotted carrying new, more advanced weapons including rocket launchers. Has the current leader of the ADF, Jamil Muhula rekindled his ties with al- Qaeda or has a new connection been forged between the two groups? Is al- Shabaab training ADF soldiers to become mujahideen – international mercenaries of terror? And if so, who’s paying for their services? Or does al- Shabaab or al- Qaeda seek to become the next masters of the illegal gold trade themselves now that M23 has been removed from the picture?

ADF’s motives remain unclear. Why would the ADF attack Kamango on Christmas Day after attacking it for the first time at the end of July, 2013? Why did they return three days later to take the city again only to behead 21 civilians? Why did they urge the villagers to flee to Uganda and above all, why would they act like an invading army when they too live in the Beni area and were sure have relatives and friends living in the city. Most ADF soldiers are Bandandi – Congolese ethnic Bakonzo so why would they turn on their own people. It’s not a logical move to invade a city knowing that UN troops are in the vicinity with orders to destroy all wayward militia groups. These men may be smugglers but they are intelligent business men as well who sell the produce from their farming operations in the local markets. What would possess them to anger and alienate their customers so? What was their motivation? It had to be something dire enough to cause them to jeopardize their livelihood. I suspect it had something to do with warning other groups in Beni away from M23’s operation? Was this the reason for the beheadings? Did they conquer Beni to lay an official claim to M23’s former gold operation by murdering the competition or were they paid to provide military support for another much stronger group like al- Shabaab- intent on picking up where M23 left off?

According to my sources in the area prior to Kamango ADF troops always followed an unofficial set of guidelines but predictable ones nonetheless: 1.) Never attack the Congolese Army only fight back in self- defense. 2.) Never attack large groups of Congolese civilians, and 3.) Avoid residing in villages; remain in the forest camps.

Whatever the reason, the ADF managed to anger the United Nations Security Council which on January 30th of this year reiterated its former mandate to MONUSCO ordering that all rebel groups be made to disband and that M23 troops be prevented from regrouping. It also resolved to continue to enforce its previous arms embargo, travel bans, and asset freezes on the DRC especially on those in the Kinshasa government. The UN Intervention Brigade presently consists of a force of 3,000 soldiers from the countries of Tanzania, South Africa, and Malawi as well as another 17,000 troops serving in MONUSCO, the United Nations fighting force assigned to the protection of the Eastern Congo.

Defeating the rebels may lessen the immediate crisis but it is far from a real solution to the problem. Until the United Nations makes a unilateral effort to connect all sections of the country together by providing a reliable infrastructure nothing will change. Men will continue to come forward declaring themselves warlords and forming entirely new militias because there is no mechanism in place to stop them. The DR Congo is estimated to contain 24 trillion dollars US in untapped deposits of raw mineral ores, including the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and significant quantities of the world’s diamonds, gold, and copper. That sum is equivalent to the Gross Domestic Product of the European Union and the United States of America combined. With that much money at stake there are millions of men even other countries willing to do whatever it takes to secure some of that wealth for themselves.

According to the Encyclopedia of Nations, The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the third largest country in Africa and at 903,563 square miles is about ¼ the size of the United States of America. Yet according to the United Nations Development Index for 2013, 87.7% of its citizens live below the international poverty level. How can a country that rich in resources provide so little for its own people? The biggest problem is that most of the country’s wealth is being illegally smuggled across its Eastern border because the DRC has no infrastructure; which means – no dependable roads connect the 11 separate provinces in this country together, the government is located too far to the west of the country to do anything about it, while the rich deposits are located in the East in a very isolated mountainous region lined with tropical rain forests much too dense to cross.

Travelers in North Kivu district constantly come across roads that merely stop in the middle of nowhere suddenly turning into foot paths. Most roads turn to mud as soon as it rains and there are little to no repairs made on the existing ones. Plus traveling by car for any length of time is an impossible task for there are no dependable gas stations, hotels, stores, or restaurants in the rural areas- and above all, no law enforcement agencies. That means no police force and above all, no one to turn to if something goes wrong unless you’ve been adopted by the local tribe. No one travels far in the Congo except for Congolese soldiers grouped together in small bands who walk the roads by day with automatic weapons in hand dispensing justice to those who pay them the highest fees. There are local buses but they will only take you one or two villages away from home and operate within the same province. Pulling into a border town feels very much like entering the bar scene in Star Wars I where violent assaults literally occur at the “drop of a hat”.

The rule of thumb when entering Eastern Congo – “if you haven’t packed everything you’ll need to take you in and out of there, don’t go!” Nothing will ever improve for the people of Eastern Congo until the minerals have been adequately protected and North Kivu Province is opened up to the world at large.

 

Kat Nickerson                      Kingston, Rhode Island                                                                                               March 27, 2013