UN warns Kenyan terror group linked to Al-Shabaab plotting attacks
Updated Friday, July 26th 2013 at 22:45 GMT +3
A Kenyan militia group linked to Al-Shabaab is fast becoming a threat to security in the Horn of Africa, a United Nations report reveals.
The group has allegedly made new contacts across East Africa, including recruitment of affiliates in Rwanda and Burundi, and plans to unleash terror in the region. The group sprung up after extra-judicial killings of suspected Al-Shabaab sympathisers in Kenya.
Al Shabaab, or Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, as the terror group is known in Somalia, remains a threat two years after the militants were driven out of Mogadishu. The 5,000-member group is believed to have the support of about 500 Kenyans of a group calling itself Al-Hijra (the migration) that has grown out of the Muslim Youth Centre.
This, despite the killing of a senior Al Shabaab leader who wrote a letter titled ‘Iko Matata’ complaining about the mistreatment of foreign fighters from Kenya.
The report names Islamist preacher Abubakar Shariff Ahmed ‘Makaburi’, a self-styled Al-Qaeda recruiter, as increasingly asserting his influence over Al Hijra. Makaburi, a Kenyan in his late 40s, was a close associate of the late Aboud Mohammad Rogo, who was shot dead in unclear circumstances in August last year. Both men were “designated for targeted measures” by a United Nations committee earlier that month for activities supporting terrorism.
Other active Al Hijra members that have since disappeared include Sylvester Opiyo alias Musa Osodo, Jeremiah Onyango Okumu and Steven Mwanzia Osaka aka Duda Black and Duda Brown, also disappeared around the same time.
A recent report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea said Al Hijra is “striving to exert its influence” after it suffered killings and disappearances of its members. Local human rights groups blame Kenya anti-terrorism units for this, but police have denied the claims.
“The setbacks… have impeded the threat capacity of Al-Shabaab in East Africa and affected the strategic-operational link between the two groups,” said the report. Despite recent battlefield losses, Al Shabaab retains control of the entire southern region of Middle Jubba, most of central and southern regions of Hiiraan, Bay and Bakol and sizable parts of Galgadud and Lower and Middle Shabelle regions.
Reports that the group is benefiting from trade through Kismayu allegedly facilitated by Kenya Defence Forces and business leaders raise fears that progress made in the war on terror may be eroded.
Corroborating information indicates that Al-Shabaab affiliates in Rwanda and Burundi are in contact with Al Hijra members and associates in Kenya, said the report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.
The group wants to “make use of its fighters returning from Somalia to conduct new and more complex operations and to strengthen its roots in the region”.
Al-Shabaab’s internal bickering and the loss of Kismayu have affected recruitment of new fighters by Al Hijra. The militants terror activities in Kenya have also declined, said the report. “One Al Hijra fighter claimed that… fellow combatants returning to Kenya had become anxious about the lack of effective coordination between Al-Shabaab and Al Hijra’s ‘Amir’ based in Somalia, Ahmad Iman Ali,” said the report.
The influence and leadership of Ahmad Iman, also Al-Shabaab’s representative for Kenya, inspired attacks by grenades and improvised explosive devices in the country. While this approach has had marginal success, both Al-Shabaab and Ahmad Iman have repeatedly called for sustained attacks regionally.
Possibly owing to its limited success and the violent approach to counter-terrorism taken by Kenyan security services, Al Hijra, in partnership with the Ansar Muslim Youth Centre in Tanzania, has sought operational direction and guidance since the latter part of last year from individuals with former ties to Al-Qaeda in East Africa and self-styled Al-Qaeda affiliates, including Makaburi and Briton Jermaine John Grant, now facing trial in a special court in Shanzu over terror-related offences.
Makaburi has exerted a growing influence over Al Hijra and is determined to redirect the group’s resources and manpower from hitting “soft targets” to conducting complex, large-scale attacks in Kenya on behalf and in support of Al-Shabaab, said the report.
Meanwhile, it added, Jermaine John Grant, confined in prison, has effectively provided assistance, albeit remotely, to ongoing plots involving both Al Hijra and Makaburi. Over the years, Al Hijra in Kenya and its Somalia-based fighters have proven adept at mobilising resources for Al-Shabaab activities in Somalia and the region.
Fight for territory
Al Shabaab continues to pose a regional and international threat, said the report released last week. The group has chosen to avoid fighting with foreign troops in the country, including Kenyans, in the hopes of picking up the fight for territory after the peacekeepers have been withdrawn.
The Monitoring Group says it believes the Al Shabaab’s military strength – about 5,000-strong force – “remains arguably intact in terms of operational readiness, chain of command, discipline and communication capabilities, in spite of its alleged financial constraints and the loss of control of Kismayu”.