Tag Archives: Terrorism in Kenya

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