Two kidnapping incidents of tourists in Lamu are raising questions about the ability of the country’s security agencies to secure the country’s borders and deal with terrorism threats.
The kidnappings come at a time the country has intensified the war against terrorism by establishing elite units within security agencies with the help of the US government.
According to a US counterterrorism report, the country’s anti-terrorism units include those within the regular and administration police, Kenya Wildlife Service and the Army.
These units have been tasked with dealing with the increasing threats of terrorism posed by the al Shabaab.
One wonders where these security agencies were when suspected Somali bandits carried out the two abductions.
Recent reports of border kidnappings, arms smuggling and extremists recruiting within refugee camps and Kenyan towns show that the country remains vulnerable to terror attacks.
According to the report, the US has helped the Army train and equipped two infantry battalions and one ranger strike force company tasked with providing border security.
The US State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance programme has also helped establish, equip and train the Maritime Police Unit as well as KWS personnel.
“Security along Kenya’s land and maritime borders remained a primary focus of these efforts,” the report says.
Given that the Kenya Navy has a naval base in Lamu, many are left wondering how a rag-tag militia group can make incursions into the country and abduct foreigners without any resistance from our security agencies. (READ: Kenya bungles rescue mission for kidnapped French woman)
Some security experts believe that the ouster of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, the killing of Osama bin Laden and two other top al Qaeda operatives Abdalla Fazul and Saleh Nabhan has weakened the terror group.
According to Dr Nyagudi Musandu, a forensic criminologist and security analyst, al Qaeda and its offshoots are currently at their most vulnerable stage.
This is because they have been uprooted from Somali capital, Mogadishu by the Transitional Federal Government forces and they seem to be in a financial crisis.
Dr Musandu says the killing of Fazul, who made millions of dollars through diamonds smuggling and piracy, has had a major impact on the operations of the terror group in Somalia.
It is against this background that it is suspected that recent tourist kidnappings are either desperate efforts by the group to raise money through ransoms or attempts to show that they are still a force.
Dr Musandu argues that increase attacks by the militia group in northern Kenya, for example recent kidnappings, improvised explosive device attack, will force the government to act to contain the situation.
“If African Union Mission in Somalia will not have achieved that by then, I can clearly see a war coming, an attack deep into Somalia,” he explains.
The security expert says that current al Qaeda operatives will try to establish themselves after the killing of their top commanders by focusing their attacks on US and its allies.
A senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, in Pretoria, South Africa, Mr Martin Ewi, believes that the killing of Fazul was a big blow to al Shabaab.
“His death has been a blow to the group as we have seen recently. The key question is whether the group will re-energise itself, fill the gap left by Fazul and find new ways of mobilising resources,” he explains.
Mr Ewi adds that the deaths of bin Laden, Fazul and other al Qaeda operatives have paralysed the terror group operations.
“This has only disrupted the group’s coherency and its ability to plan and execute high profile attacks, particularly one that needs complex coordination, dynamic leadership and a hell of resources. The groups however, still maintain a reasonable ability to strike,” he says.
Al Qaeda’s central command under the new leadership of Ayman al Zawahiri is at its weakest stage since the group was founded in the early 1990s, Mr Ewi notes.