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Shabaab attacks in Lamu diverting KDF’s attention from Somalia, experts warn

Tuesday January 23 2018

Mpeketoni Lamu

The Mpeketoni assistant county commissioner’s office which was torched by Al-Shabaab militants on June 15, 2014 in one of the deadliest terror attacks in Lamu. Since that attack happened, the Jaysh Ayman brigade has continued to launch a constant terror attacks at the Coast. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

NYABOGA KIAGE
By NYABOGA KIAGE
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On June 5, 2014, about 50 heavily armed militants stormed Mpeketoni Town in Lamu County and killed 60 people, the massacre was then linked to Jaysh Ayman, a faction of Al-Shabaab operating in Boni Forest.

Since the attack that hit headlines, the Jaysh Ayman brigade has continued to launch a constant terror attacks at the Coast.

Analysts now say that the Kenyan military should invest in gathering intelligence to contain the terrorists.

The analysts also say that there is a possibility that locals are aiding militants, making it hard for the military to get hold of the terrorists.

"If members of the public were ready to report any happenings to the [authorities] then by now most of the terrorists could have been arrested,” said Security analyst Mwenda Mbijiwe.

FOOD FOR MILITANTS

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Mr Mbijiwe said that it is worrying that the military has learnt that some locals are providing the militants with food and even helping them get treatment.

On Monday, Operation Linda Boni Commander Joseph Kanyiri said that locals were working with the militants at the expense of innocent Kenyans, making it difficult to arrest the terrorists.

“Every time our officers are deployed in those areas to conduct a search once an attack happens, no terrorist is found. Does it mean that these terrorists evaporate?” he posed to journalists in Lamu.

Mr Mbijiwe said that if the allegations are anything to go by, then the war in Boni Forest is a complicated one.

“Unlike in Somalia where KDF is sure who the terrorists are, in Kenya they are dealing with people they don’t know. This forces the KDF officers to be extra careful during their mission not to hurt civilians,” he said.

WEED OUT TERRORISTS

He suggested that KDF should do all it takes to ensure that they weed out the terrorists giving an example of how it happened in Eastleigh in 2014.

Dr Mustafa Y Ali, another expert in conflict resolution and international security said that there is a possibility that the terrorist group was hired by some locals and urges the Kenyan government investigates the matter.

“There might be a great possibility that the group was hired and if it is so, then the Kenyan government should be worried,” he said.

He said that if well investigated, the government will be shocked to learn that the attacks are being conducted by terrorists but their motive is different.

“With the attacks in Lamu, the terror group is trying to divert the Kenyan military’s attention from Somalia because they have really rooted the terrorists from their main bases,” Dr Ali said.

DIFFERENT TACTICS

Some military officials say that the Jaysh Ayman brigade has its unique methods of attack, different from Al-Shabaab.

One soldier told Nation that the group’s modus operandi appears decentralised and requires fewer resources to plan, given the frequency of attacks.

“If Kenya could have taken seriously a warning by UN in 2014 that members of the group were setting camp in the forest, it could have saved the situation,” the soldier who cannot be named as he is not authorised to officially speak on the matter said.

KDF have been pounding Boni Forest in Lamu for the last year and though it seems complicated, the soldier said there are signs the group will be defeated.

TRAVEL ADVISORIES

The attacks by the brigade are part of the reason US citizens travelling to Kenya have been advised against visiting Lamu, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Kilifi and parts of Malindi.

These advisories have affected business in the Coast.

Safer World, an independent international organisation working to prevent violent conflicts, calls upon the Kenyan forces to use alternative approaches to counter terrorism at the Coast.

LONG TERM APPROACH

“Current approaches can reinforce abusive and corrupt behaviour in the short-term and contribute to longer-term drivers of conflict such as inequality, marginalisation and bad governance,” it said.

Safer World says that for the fire in Lamu and other parts of the Coast to be contained, there is need to have fresh thoughts in order to overcome the conflict risks that lie ahead.

“Counter-terror and [efforts to counter] violent extremism have not solved Lamu’s problems. Terror attacks and the response to them are revealing of broader dynamics in Kenya, and hold important lessons [in] the way the west engages with terrorism and conflict,” Safer World says.

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HISTORY OFJAYSH AYMAN

The Jaysh Ayman brigade has been listed by intelligence reports as the deadliest terrorist group operating within Kenyan borders.

Named after its top leader, Maalim Ayman, the group comprises Kenyans and other international jihadists.

Intelligence reports indicate that the group was purposely formed to fight within Kenyan borders with the aim of securing the coastal region and also scare away tourists.

In 2015, the United Nations warned that the brigade was setting its base in the northern parts of Lamu County.

Their style of attack, unlike the large scale one by Al-Shabaab is easy to carry out.

ATTACK ON PS EL MAAWY

The group is said to be responsible for the death of Public Works Principal Secretary Mariam El Maawy whose car was attacked in July 2017.

It is also responsible for the death of civilians and security officers within Lamu with the Mpeketoni attack two years ago being the deadliest.

The group is also linked to the series of radical preaching sessions on locals that take place in Lamu County mostly at dawn.

So daring are the terrorists that last week they hoisted a flag at a police station said to be deserted.

Statistics show the Jaysh Ayman group is responsible for the highest number of deadly attacks on Kenyan soil.

Initially, the Saleh Nabhan which also claimed responsibility for the attack on the KDF base at Kulbiyow was the only brigade that had ever conducted attacks on Kenyan soil.

FALLING-OUT

During the formation of the brigade, there was a falling-out between Ahmed Iman aka Abu Zinira and top Al-Shabaab commandos on who should have led the brigade.

Military reports indicate that majority of the Kenyans in the group hail from the Coastal region.

Some of the known foreign Jihadist include Maalik Alim Jones, 31, currently jailed in America. Others are Ahmed Mueller, 42, a German.

The identity of the two went public following the death of Mr Briton Thomas, a Briton who was killed when a mission to attack the Baure KDF camp went wrong.

FIGHTERS

Other deadly fighters in the group, according to the Kenya military, include Omar Omondi, Salim Jamal Mwangi, Rama Mbega, Mbarak Abdi and Suleiman Makhtur.

In 2017 in a disturbing graduation video released by Al-Shabaab, Sheikh Ali Mahmoud Rage, the militia’s spokesperson, then said that many of the graduates were from Kenya and would be sent into the coastal part of the country.

Even with their information leaked to the public, the brigades have gone on unleashing their deadly attacks and in most cases successfully dodging and escaping the hands of the police.