Security forces were yesterday mobilising in parts of Lamu County, ahead of a major operation that will be concentrated in Boni forest which will be reminiscent of the rooting out of the Sabaot Land Defence Forces from Mt Elgon in 2008.
It will be a joint operation comprising the police, the military as well as the National Intelligence Service.
The main aim is to remove the Jeshi Ayman which has made the dense Boni forest its home. The group is the Kenyan faction of Somalia’s terrorist group Al-Shabaab and has been unleashing terror in parts of Lamu mainland that border the forest.
Since last year, nearly 100 people have died and thousands displaced in such attacks.
The most brutal was the Mpeketoni attack in June last year during which more than 50 people were slaughtered in a night of terror.
The operation was signalled by Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet in a Gazette notice on Friday.
He told people with illegal weapons to surrender them and those holding licensed ones to take them to the nearest police station or administrative offices during the day for safe custody.
“The general public should note that this notice shall remain in force for 90 days and is subject to extension,” Mr Boinnet said.
He also declared the forest and its environs “a dangerous area .”
A visit by the Sunday Nation in Lamu revealed a situation of communities at a crossroads who, on the one hand, are left exposed to brutality of terrorists while, on the other, are viewed by the security forces as collaborators of the dreaded group.
From a distance, the evergreen dense flora through which narrow roads cut, looks like the perfect peace haven until you delve in and hear tales from villagers.
Mr Samuel Kimani Kang’ethe, barely in his 30s, pulled up his T-shirt to reveal a long scar in the belly, sustained after a shot fired from a high calibre rifle hit him during a raid at Hindi last year.
“They attacked us on July 5, last year. It was about 1 am when dogs started barking and my dad asked me to check what was happening. As I went round the compound, I heard gunshots and fell on the ground,” he said.
He slid under a thicket where he remained for over an hour, until the shooting ended. His father was also shot.
A few kilometres away, at Subira Guest House, Lamu County Commissioner Fredrick Ndambuki was meeting elders who had requested his audience due to rising insecurity.
The elders were too afraid to have their photographs taken or their names published.
It’s the kind of fear that was witnessed in parts of Central region when Mungiki had taken over and anybody who dared to talk about them was killed.
The same intimidation tactics were used by SLDF, and villagers were always afraid to talk about them.
Intelligence reports have linked Jeshi Ayman to Mombasa Republican Council.
One of the elders told the Sunday Nation: “We are from Aweri community. (The Bonis who live inside and near the forest). We have been displaced from our homes by this group. sWe depend on honey harvesting from the forest but we cannot access it any more. We want police to camp in our villages and protect us.”
The other elder said: “Since they (terrorists) started invasions, all schools have been closed. Our children did not sit national examinations. They often leave the forest to come and harass us. After they leave, the military comes to interrogate us, accusing us of hosting them and giving them food. Tumekuwa kama chawa kwa vidole mbili. (Its like being infested by jiggers on both toes).”
Another elder described these terrorists as “ghosts.”
He said: “They know when the military is around and they stay away. When the troops leave, they reappear. They don’t ask for money, not even food.
They just gather us at one place and preach. We are Muslims but what they preach is not Islam. What summons are those that don’t have timings? Any time is their time.”
In their teachings, they tell locals to stop getting lifts in government vehicles because they are targeted for attacks.
A security report seen by the Sunday Nation revealed the Al-Shabaab has changed tack after locals were killed in an attack targeted at government personnel and non-natives.
In doing so, they hope to win support of the residents in their bid to establish a parallel government.
Ms Asha Asman said: “My daughter was burnt to death when they set a vehicle alight. When they come, they don’t kill but they slap people as they gather them.”
Lamu mainland is divided into Mpeketoni, Panda Nguo and Witu, among other divisions, but Milimani area is worst affected and its residents have fled their homes and have been accommodated in villages in Bodhei.
Ms Halima is one such resident who fled Milimani for Baragoni.
“I had to flee because of these attacks. At the time, the security people were accusing us of helping them (Al-Shabaab).”
Another elderly man appears and reveals that he lost his wife and daughter when a police Land-Cruiser they were travelling in hit a landmine, and was then sprayed with bullets before being set on fire.
“I just collected a few bones. The rest was ash. We would like help to get rid of these people. We love our country,” he said.
Mr Ndambuki said 85 people have been killed since last year while over 2,000 have been displaced from Milimani area.
Three primary schools in Mangai, Basuba and Milimani have been closed after teachers fled.
In one of the schools, the terrorists burnt down the dormitories.
“Once this operation starts, we have very elaborate strategies to ensure that development is achieved. We shall have more police posts, we shall build schools, health centres and dig wells. The presence of security personnel is critical. We have also arranged for feeding of those displaced and will have the youths go back to work,” said Mr Ndambuki.
The acting county director of health services Victor Tore said two dispensaries had been closed in Panda Nguo and Mangai after the terrorists destroyed equipment and set them on fire.
Boni forest provides the perfect cover for militants because it is dense, making it difficult for security agencies to carry out aerial surveillance.
It is also swampy and tsetse fly infested. It is also expansive and traverses the Kenya-Somalia border.