The stage appears to have been set for a heightened counter terrorism war that could include thousands of arbitrary arrests, deportations and possible hunting down and killing of suspected terrorists, and those thought to be harbouring them.
Pushed to the wall by mounting criticism by Kenyans on Al-Shabaab threat, which has refused to go away, and a feeling of not getting enough support from the international community, the government has decided to take a ruthless approach route that could put it at loggerheads with rights groups and activists.
This is the stand taken by security chiefs who have been meeting in Mombasa for a week to strategise on how to keep the country safe.
The workshop ended Friday, with President Uhuru Kenyatta saying security agencies will take a “one government” approach in the fight against terrorism.
Kenya has been pushing for the closure of Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa, arguing that it has been used to host the merchants of terrorism.
The government also says the refugee complex is used as a conduit for contraband such as weapons and drugs.
Additionally, the government believes the fight would be made easier if the United Nations designates Al-Shabaab a terrorist group, just like Al-Qaeda, Taliban and the Islamic State.
This, too, has failed due to lack of enough global support.
It is on this basis that the government has decided to use all available avenues to destroy terror cells.
“You are the tip of a sharp spear; we are going to use to destroy our enemies. Let no one or anything stand in your way in implementing the tasks we set here,” Mr Kenyatta said in a televised speech before ordering journalists out of the room to have a private meeting with security chiefs.
“I believe that we have more than enough officers. If we coordinate and co-operate, we can eliminate this evil.”
Sources said the security bosses were told to adopt the shoot-to-kill approach against anyone identified as intending to commit a terror attack.
Rights groups will obviously be angered by this decision.
For long, the inability by police to link terrorism suspects to Al-Shabaab or provide watertight evidence against them have seen those arrested walk free.
Lack of witnesses has also crippled the war against terrorism.
The government has also been finding it difficult to infiltrate and eliminate local terrorism cells whose presence has been growing.
Facilitated by Al-Shabaab’s intelligence wing, Amniyat, the cells have gradually become deep cover groups for recruiting members and carrying out raids.
According to State officials, the recent attack at Kamuthe Primary School in Garissa, was a result of a conspiracy between locals and terrorists who had crossed the border from Somalia, 100 kilometres away.
The local cells, masquerading as religious groups or business entities, are the backbone of a narcotics trade and smuggling of contraband whose proceeds are used to fund the attacks.
This is according to an intelligence report handed to the President before the Mombasa workshop.
It says universities have become the epicentres of recruitment.
Because the terror cells are secret groups without formal structures through which their activities can be tracked, the government has been having a difficult time in getting successful convictions even when intelligence reports given to the police lead to arrests.
In the past one year, terrorism suspects Nassir Abdallah Skanda, Hania Sagar Rogo, Sheikh Mohammed Khalid, Samuel Wanjala Wabwile alias Salim Mohamed, Abdirazak Salah Salah, Luul Ali Tahli, Nasteho Ali Tahli, Zamzam Abdallahi and Yasir Azam Abdulakhan have been set free by the courts due to lack of evidence.
County commissioners, regional police commanders, commanders from the National Intelligence Service, police and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations took part in the workshops which began on Tuesday.
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji, Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) head George Kinoti, Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai and his assistants also attended.
The government has been under fire over relentless attacks by al-Shabaab terrorists which have left more than 20 people dead in just a month.
Al-Shabaab, whose numbers are dwindling due to American air strikes, switched to guerrilla tactics targeting police vehicles, communication systems and other low-scale attacks on the Somalia-Kenya border with the assistance of local facilitators.
AMBUSH AND KILL
Fed up with sticking to legal avenues to deal with the terror cells, the State has taken the decision to take the fight a gear higher.
The Saturday Nation has been informed that a major operation — like what was witnessed in 2014 — to flush out terrorist cells, is on the way and could take place as soon as this month.
“No one will come to attack our people and expect to walk away scot-free. That is our policy,” one security chiefs told those who attended the Mombasa meeting.
On New Year’s Day, Omar Salim Unda, a suspected Al-Shabaab returnee was ambushed and killed while driving to his home in Dabaso, Kilifi County.
The 27-year-old was shot in the head and neck, at close range.
The killing took place around 7pm.
Locals said he was from Timboni in Watamu when he was shot near Dabaso Primary School.
They said two vehicles blocked his saloon car near a junction before two men dragged him out of the car and shot him at close range.
It has not been established who carried out the attack.
Residents have pointed the finger at State security agents, with some saying it was a case of extra-judicial killing.
Large scale operations against terror cells, like the one being planned, are likely to lead to even more accusations of human rights violations.
The operation in 2014 left eight people dead in Nairobi and Mombasa.
Hundreds of undocumented Somalis were detained at Kasarani International Sports Complex. Many were later deported.
“Kenya’s deportation of Somalis to their conflict-ridden country without allowing them to seek asylum is a flagrant breach of its legal obligations,” Human Right Watch said at the time.
Yesterday, President Kenyatta said financiers of terrorism would be listed and sanctioned.
“We will respond robustly by mounting the operation against the operatives and sleeper cells, especially in the northeast and coastal regions,” Mr Kenyatta said as he called for implementation of the Countering Violence Extremism (CVE) plan.
“I also expect the officers to use proactive measures in dealing with the attackers.”
He added that the implementation of the measures should be undertaken in a measurable and systematic way and would expect a report of the practical execution of the same by the end of August.