Failure by the military and police to act on intelligence reports five years ago that Al-Shabaab was setting up base in the expansive Boni Forest is to blame for the tens of deaths arising from their frequent attacks.
Interviews with security agents revealed that the inaction allowed the Somalia-based terrorists to establish territory in the dense forest in Lamu County and it could take a scorched-earth policy to kick them out.
A discussion with a senior detective showed that they had knowledge of Al-Shabaab presence in Boni as early as 2012.
The source blamed “ineffective command” for their inaction.
Intelligence and police sources indicated that Al-Shabaab had set up permanent training bases mid-2012 and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) were sending periodic briefings to National Police Service (NPS) and Kenya Defence Forces (KDF).
NIS sources intimated that Al-Shabaab moved into the forest to avenge the deployment of Kenyan soldiers in Somalia to fight them.
“They surveyed many parts of the country bordering Somalia with short- and long-term plans,” said a source on condition of anonymity.
“The short-term plan included sporadic grenade attacks in major towns such as Mombasa, Garissa and Nairobi to keep security agencies busy.”
This was corroborated by Western intelligence sources, who identified the militants as members of Jaysh Ayman fighters, an Al-Shabaab elite group formed to engage Kenyan security forces within the country.
Jaysh Ayman, Saleh Nabhan and Abu Zubeyr elite groups fight KDF and African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
Jaysh Ayman, largely comprising Kenyans and other foreign Jihadists, was deployed in Boni to target KDF and police officers along the Hindi-Kiunga road, which is key to Kenya’s military operations in Somalia.
The groups were mainly formed by Kenyans from coastal counties of Mombasa, Lamu, Kilifi and Kwale who joined Al-Shabaab to wage war on their motherland as most of them were well versed on the targeted region.
“When they started moving inside the forest, their local operatives bought food, GPS and night vision goggles from Mombasa,” said the sources.
A senior security officer who spoke on condition of anonymity suggested that the forest serves as a training ground for the militants, who sneak back into Somalia through the porous border during the dry season.
The recent attacks occurred nearly a year after the militants had retreated to Somalia following the prolonged drought.
More sources indicated that the group and its local operatives set up training bases between Boni, Gorji and Belasange, on the border.
“As early as 2012, they deployed foreign and Kenyan recruits in the forest to set up training bases to strategise these attacks.
We alerted local police to be aware and watch over these dense forests. No one cared,” added the officer, who declined to share the intelligence report with the Nation.
NIS monitored the Al-Shabaab operatives in Boni from 2012 to 2014.
The forest, which is also frequented by researchers and conservationists undertaking various studies on its rich ecosystem, is now a No-Go zone.
The Aweer or Boni community, who depend on the forest for firewood, meat, honey and herbal medicines, have borne the brunt of the lockout.
Sources in the intelligence circles said the attackers received supplies from Malindi and Mombasa through traders, some of whom were put on a watchlist and charged in court.
“One supplier collected assorted foodstuffs from well-wishers, claiming they were for people ravaged by drought in North-Eastern,” said another intelligence source.
“We eventually tracked the convoy until it branched at the junction of Minjila towards the Garsen-Lamu road. We followed it to its destination and alerted local police.”
However, sources claimed that at one of a series of meetings in Nairobi between various security organs in 2012, senior military officers openly dismissed the NIS report on Boni.
“A senior military officer ... said it was impossible for Al-Shabaab to set up a training base in the forest,” said a senior NIS officer.
The sources also said the authorities were not caught flat-footed by the Mpeketoni attacks.
After the deadly attack on June 15, 2014 that killed more than 60 people, President Uhuru Kenyatta blamed a “local political network”.
“This, therefore, was not an Al-Shabaab attack. Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of the heinous attacks,” the President said.
The dreaded terrorists would kill another 42 people in attacks at Poromoko, Maleli, Kakati, Hindi Kibiboni and Maremende villages, Gamba Police Station and Tahmeed bus in 34 days.
The President was reportedly misled by the Lamu County Security Committee, chaired by then-county commissioner Stephen Ikua, and local politicians who were at loggerheads with Governor Issa Timamy.
Mr Timamy was arrested and charged before then-Mombasa High Court judge Martin Muya, with assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Alexander Muteti saying he was investigating him for murder, forcible transfer of population and terrorism-related offences in relation to the Mpeketoni attack.
Months later, Mr Timamy’s case was terminated without charges.
The truth about the Lamu attacks would emerged on June 2015, however, during an aborted dawn raid on Baure KDF camp when the faces of the attackers were exposed.
This is when Briton Thomas Evans, 25, was killed with 10 other Al-Shabaab.
The Englishman, who adopted the name Abdul Hakim after converting to Islam, was spotted by many survivors of the Mpeketoni attack.
A video camera and chip disks recovered from Evans exposed the other faces behind the Mpeketoni attack — including 43-year-old German Ahmed Mueller, who had fled his country to join Al-Shabaab.
Jaysh Ayman commander Luqman Osman Issa aka Shirwa, whose telephone conversations in Boni with Al-Shabaab commanders in Somalia were tracked, was also killed.
Other Al-Shabaab casualties included Mombasa-based tour operator Said Hemed Abdalla alias Marhaba, Jumaane Salim Ashur from Mlaleo, Mombasa, Abdikadir Rehan alias Fiki, who was born in Majengo, Mombasa, and Amar, a Kikuyu raised in Nairobi.
Six other Kenyans captured in the video found at Baure escaped.
They included Mbarak Abi Huka from Marsabit, Abdalla Suleiman Makhtum from Likoni, Mombasa, Omar Omondi Owiti (Nairobi), Salim Jamal Mwangi (Mombasa) and Rama Mbwana Mbega from South Coast.
Exactly four years after the Mpeketoni attack, precisely on Monday, a well-informed President Kenyatta returned to Lamu and publicly acknowledged the attackers as Al-Shabaab, whom he ordered killed and buried.
“When we get them, we will not jail, but bury them,” said the President, contradicting Coast Regional Coordinator Nelson Marwa’s assertion that the attackers were being funded by Lamu and Tana River politicians.
Lamu residents have expressed their anger and frustration at having the marauding heavily armed terrorists still roaming the expansive forest.
They wonder why KDF and police have not dealt with more than 200 gunmen they claimed had taken control of the forest since 2012.
“The soldiers don’t move even five kilometres from the main road,” said a resident. “We wonder why. We see them (Al-Shabaab) almost every day, especially in the evening.”
Boni is surrounded by KDF camps — one located between Milimani and Basuba, another on a border strip separating Kiunga and Ijara and the major one in Bargoni.