Tag Archives: Somalia

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

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Islam’s Jihad against Christians in East Africa: Why Isn’t This on the Nightly News?

20 Dec

While I can’t remember Muslims and Christians hugging in the streets of Kampala or the markets of Nairobi during my summer stays in both cities starting in 2005; I do not remember much at all in the way of open confrontation. Granted it was an uneasy truce but even though Muslims and Christians did not embrace one another openly they seemed comfortable enough to live aside of one another in relative harmony until a few years ago. I was comfortable greeting my Muslim neighbors with “As- salaam alaykum” when in the marketplace even memorized the entire Adan after having been woken up each morning while it was still dark outside to hear each muezzin’s unique version of his call to prayer over the loud speaker. I loved it so much I began singing it in Arabic along with the muezzin every morning and felt that the words were a wonderful way to start the day. So I was not prepared for the violence that began to escalate right about the time of the July 2010 FIFA World Cup Finals.

Africa has always been a place of diverse religious beliefs from the old religion of the ancestors, Rastafarians, to the more organized faiths such as Sunni and Shia Islam as well as a range of Christian denominations. Toleration seemed the order of the day as everyone went about freely worshipping God in their own way. But then an extremist Islamic terrorist group replaced the dictator, Major General Mohammed Siad Barre in Somalia in 1991 while the American forces invaded Somalia in the Battle of Mogadishu in October,1993. It’s official name is Harakat al- Shabaab al- Mujahideen, The Movement of Striving Youth and yet it is now referred to as al- Shabaab, “the youth.” Actually the organization did begin as a youth group allied to the Islamic Courts Union Government in 2006 that pledged to bring a fundamentalist Islamic state back to Somalia. And this would not be hard for any Islamist group to do. According to a report from Pew Research Center in 2006, 98.6 % of all Somalis are Muslims and most Sunni Muslims.

It was not long before al- Shabaab earned notoriety for its ideology attracting experienced war- savvy veterans from countries such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It was also no secret that it had begun to receive financial and administrative support from al- Qaeda. At one time al- Shabaab controlled the capital city of Mogadishu as well as the port of Kismayo until African Union forces drove them out in 2011 and 2012 respectively. They pretty much stayed within their own boundaries until their first large scale terrorist attack in Kampala at the Kyadondo Rugby Club in July of 2010. Suicide bombers out on the field that night killed several people and wounded many others as they watched the World’s Cup final game. Later on al-Shabaab took credit for the attack stating that it was in retaliation for the Ugandan forces participation in the African Union currently fighting in Somalia.

And then the attacks on churches commenced. On July 3, 2012 seven masked gunmen first threw grenades then opened fire in two churches in Garissa, Kenya not far from the Somalia border killing seventeen and wounding fifty. By Easter time 2012 Muslim extremists calling themselves, “Muslim Renewal” vowed to attack Christian churches throughout Tanzania causing fear to grow throughout the Christian communities there. On February 17th a Father Musli was gunned down right outside of St Teresa’s Catholic Church in Zanzibar, an island in the Indian Ocean belonging to Tanzania. A Pastor Kachili was murdered in the Geita region of Lake Victoria after he intervened in a dispute between Muslims and Christians over the right to butcher livestock. In the words of Muslim Renewal, “Many more will die. We will burn homes and churches… we are not finished….prepare for disaster.” And in Tanzania, on May 10, 2013 a bomb was thrown into the newly- built St. Joseph’s Catholic Church where the Vatican envoy and the Archbishop of Tanzania were in the midst of celebrating mass during the consecration of the new church. Two people died as a result of the blast and sixty innocent parishioners were injured. Tanzania has a  Muslim population of 13, 450,000 that is 29.9% of its total population.

According to Lila Gilbert author of Saturday People, Sunday People,” her new book that discusses the reason 850,000 Jews were made to flee Muslim countries in the mid- twentieth century. The title of her book comes from an old Islamic saying, “First the Saturday people then the Sunday people,” meaning, “First we will kill the Jews, then we kill the Christians”. Friends of mine in Kenya believe that Islamic terrorist groups have deliberately targeted churches in an attempt to scare Christians away from attending church. Next Wednesday is Christmas Day, one of the most important Christian holydays of the year; one can only hope that another Muslim attack does not mar the celebrations in East Africa on that day but what an ideal time to send a message off to the entire world?

And al- Shabaab has forged a stronghold in the country of Kenya as well. Muslim cleric Abubaker Shariff Ahmed, of Mombasa who goes by the name, “Makaburi” has been identified by the UN Security Council as a leading facilitator and recruiter of young Kenyan males into al- Shabaab. In 2012, the Council banned him from leaving Kenya and froze all of his assets. He had been known to have told young men “go to Somalia and fight for al- Qaeda and kill US citizens”. He believes that the words of the Qur’an justify his actions and all of the violence. “There is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. The prophet did not teach us moderation in Islam- Islam is Islam.” Makaburi admits. “It’s not right for the United States or any other country to interfere with how another country wants to rule itself.” Makaburi has been accused of recruiting young boys as “jihadis” willing to make the trip from Mombasa to the island of Lamu then set sail in a small boat to the coast of Somalia. According to one disheartened recruit, “He told us that if we fought money would be given to our families and we would gain a place in Paradise as a reward for our commitment.”

His success at retaining these young men could directly relate to the massive unemployment problem in Kenya at the moment especially for its young people. According to a 2012 report from the World Bank, Africa’s youth are and will continue to face severe unemployment prospects. In Kenya, the current youth unemployment rate is 40% and many of those who are employed find themselves underemployed in low-paying jobs in which they do not get to use their education and degrees. What’s more as of July 2013, 80% of Kenyans are less than 35 years of age and 75% are under 30 years of age meaning there will be an entire glut of young people looking for work at the same time. It seems as if Sheikh Makaburi knows something of these young boys’ frustration and uses their lack of meaningful activity to his best advantage. According to one recruit, Makaburi announced, “instead of sitting around in the slums doing nothing, it’s better to go to Somalia and fight for your religion so you’ll go straight to heaven.”

Mombasa, a large resort city off the east coast of Kenya, with an equally large Muslim population and has been the center of violent riots lately in response to the killing of two Muslim clerics Aboud Rogo Mohammed in 2012 and Ibrahim Rogo Omar only two weeks after the Westgate Mall shootings. Both uprisings broke out in Muslim districts of Mombasa and the Salvation Army Church was set on fire this time around.

And then the Westgate Mall shootings occurred on September 21, 2012. Terrorists (4 gunmen in all) claiming they were members of al- Shabaab entered the mall equipped with grenades and AK-47 assault rifles and shot anyone in the mall who could not satisfactorily prove to them that they were Muslim asking them to cite verses from the Qur’an or the name of Mohammed’s mother in Arabic in order to stay alive. Those who could not were summarily executed regardless of age. And in true “Millennium” style one of the terrorists used his Twitter account to send short messages out to the world describing their actions. When the armed troops finally made it to the glass doors of the entrance twenty dead bodies blocked their path into the main lobby. What US news reports did not include was that Westgate Mall is located in the Westlands, a wealthy suburb of Nairobi and the site of many of the foreign embassies including the United States Embassy. Was al-Shabaab sending a subtle message to the United States diplomatic mission in Kenya reminding the embassy that it could come much closer to Americans in Kenya if it so desired?

And what about the two British tourists who were attacked on December 12th, 2013, seven days ago as they were on their way to a safari in Amboseli National Park? According to all reports a man tried to throw a live grenade into their Toyota Land Cruiser as the car slowed down on one of the major roads out of Mombasa. Fortunately for them, the man threw the grenade at a closed window making it bounce back into the street. But on December 14th, only four days ago passengers riding into Nairobi on a matatu (mini-bus) were not so lucky. Four people were killed and others wounded after a bomb placed inside the matatu suddenly exploded. Today is December 19th, the fifty year anniversary of Kenya’s independence from Great Britain. I have spent the entire day wondering if al-Shabaab will make its anger felt in Kenya today as national celebrations take place.

What I do know is that from all accounts al- Shabaab’s ranks grow stronger and that it holds a real grudge against the United States for invading its country in 1993 and repeatedly interfering in its country’s leadership. Remember for centuries, Somali males have earned reputations as fierce warriors and great hunters all over Africa along with very long memories. I am surprised that the American people have not been warned about the continuation of terrorist attacks all over East Africa especially on churches. The Westgate Mall incident was highly publicized; why not these other violent raids? After studying the total picture it seems like every attack al-Shabaab has made has been part of a deliberate course of action and none of these incidents could be considered emotional strikes or the results of spontaneous outbursts. These men may be young and they might be inexperienced but they seem to have gained the attention of other more powerful terrorist organizations like al- Qaeda real fast. I would not be shocked to learn that these same young men are in the midst of acting on plans that lead them to methodically stage terrorist attacks in locations around Europe as well as the United States. Hopefully, the great nations of the world will sit up shortly and pay closer attention to the escalating progression of Islamic terrorist attacks in East Africa so they’ll be ready to foil further attempts long before they begin to experience the consequences of their inaction inside their own borders.

Huria a Kenya!!!

Kat Nickerson                                          Kingston, RI                                              December 19th, 2013