Seven years since Kenyan troops entered Somalia to combat Al-Shabaab militants, Mandera Town is yet to enjoy peace.
On several occasions, the militants have crossed into Mandera at will, attacked, maimed, killed and crossed back into Somalia undetected.
Government administrators on the ground blame the porous Kenya-Somalia border and unwillingness of locals to share information. But the local community accuses government officials of corruption, leading to persistent attacks.
“As government, we are doing our best to secure Mandera, including posting more security teams to different parts to respond to such incidents. We are heading somewhere,” Mr Erick Oronyi, Mandera Deputy County Commissioner, said.
Setting up of military and police camps along the Kenya-Somalia border has reduced terror incidents in the county, he said.
“We have security camps in areas that never used to have them. This has closed the loopholes, helping in reducing the incidents,” he said.
High radicalisation of people across the county, especially the youth, is also to blame for the attacks, said the government official.
“We have cases of local youth joining terror cells. This is proving a challenge but we are up to the task,” Mr Oronyi said.
According to him, the latest attack at Arabia Boys Secondary School on October 9, 2018 had a local hand in it.
“A local was involved in providing information about the school and where the targets reside in the compound, leading to two deaths,” he said.
Two non local teachers were killed in the night attack while two others escaped narrowly.
“Students reported to the school administration that things would not be usual that fateful night and a meeting of all prefects was called. I don’t know what was discussed. Then that night we were attacked,” Mr Elijah Nderitu, a survivor, told Sunday Nation.
Mr Abdiaziz Abdullahi, a local, said it is difficult to identify a Shabaab member or sympathiser.
“We are all the same but with different missions and intentions, making it difficult to know who is Al-Shabaab and who is not,” he said.
Mr Abdullahi added that locals fear sharing information with security officers in Mandera in case their identities are disclosed to the militants.
“After the police arrest suspects, they usually reveal the informant's identity, putting many lives in danger,” he said claimed.
“The police are dishonesty in this fight and locals are keeping off,” he said.
Mr Abdullahi added that locals are well-paid by Shabaab to provide information on security operations in the county. “There are intelligence people even among the security officers that inform the enemy of traps and operations,” he said.
Women are mostly used by the terrorist organisation to gather information. “It is very difficult to suspect a woman of such missions, but the truth comes to light after an attack,” Ms Fatuma Adan, a businesswoman in the town, said.
On December 7, 2015, the body of Ms Isnina Mohamed, a tea vendor in Mandera, was found in a shallow grave.
The government accused her of being a cook for Al-Shabaab, but denied killing her.
A victim of a terror incident in Mandera said he sustained injuries in a retaliatory attack after he shared information with the government.
“A grenade was hauled into my house after sharing some vital information with the police. I was exposed by those I worked for. This has created a lot of fear among locals,” he said, requesting not to be named for fear of victimisation.
In November 2014, the militants killed at least 64 people in Mandera within 10 days.
On November 22, 2014, Al-Shabaab militants hijacked a Nairobi-bound bus, killing 28 people. And on December 2 of the same year, a quarry was surrounded by militants and 36 miners killed.
The government then announced stiff measures that included transfer of all security officers serving at home and building of a security wall along the Kenya-Somalia border.
The wall project has since been halted after only six kilometres of fencing and trench digging.
Since 2014, Al-Shabaab has carried out raids on residential areas in Mandera Town, killing people, mostly of non-Somalis.
On July 7, 2015, the militants killed 14 quarry workers at a residential plot in the town.
Mr Alex ole Nkoyo, then County Commissioner, asked quarry workers and non-Somali community members not to dwell in the same estate in large numbers.
Working in quarries at night was banned after 36 miners were executed.
On October 6, 2016, the militants killed six people at a residential plot in the town and on 25th of the same month, a guest lodge was raided, leaving 12 dead.
On June 16, 2017, four people died and 11 others were seriously injured after a public service vehicle run over a roadside bomb.
On August 28, 2017, two KDF soldiers were killed when their armoured personnel carrier (APC) triggered off an improvised explosive device in Damasa Lafey Sub-County. Three others were injured in the explosion.
On May 5, 2018, four quarry miners were killed by suspected militants in a quarry in Shimbir Fatuma, Mandera South Sub-County.
The government has since completely closed quarrying activities in Mandera, forcing miners to leave the county. “We are still facing challenges in securing Mandera, but we have plans that will see us succeed,” Mr Oronyi said.
Major towns in the county are segmented into zones, manned by different security forces at night, to curb insecurity.
In a recent meeting with Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, the leadership of Mandera pledged to launch peace and security campaigns to educate locals on the effects of terrorism.
“Local leaders pledged to carry out several campaigns to build relationships between security agencies and the community,” Mr Oronyi said, and added that locals leaders will seek to build an information-sharing relationship.
Mandera Governor Ali Roba has since maintained that his administration will support any initiative by the national government to secure his region.
Mr Roba has survived at least six terror incidents and lost five bodyguards on May 20, 2017 in a roadside explosion.
“We are paying police reservists to secure Mandera and create a conducive environment to attract investors,” he said.