Kudos our forces, but Dusit unveiled new face of terrorism

Sunday January 20 2019

Al-Shabaab

The scene of a terrorist attack at Dusit hotel in Nairobi on January 15, 2019. Al-Shabaab might increasingly turn to using females as fighters. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

PETER KAGWANJA
By PETER KAGWANJA
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Undoubtedly, Kenya’s security forces have emerged as the heroes in the wake of the terrorist attack on the upmarket Dusit Luxury Hotel and Business Complex on 14 Riverside Drive Westlands, Nairobi on January 15, 2018.

Their swift and effective response saved lives while their first-rate coordination and measured communication calmed the nation.

Within hours of the attack, the forces had stormed the scene and overpowered the assailants, evacuated over 700 workers and guests trapped in the Complex and facilitated the transfer of the injured to hospitals, thus reducing a planned massacre to 21 deaths.

It has been a long walk for the forces since the protracted Westgate Mall siege on September 21-24, 2013, which left a total of 71 people dead, approximately 200 others wounded and the nation in distress.

COORDINATION

Inter-agency cooperation in the security sector within the ambit of the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) has enhanced coordination, communication and operational efficiency, enabling them to respond effectively to or foil attacks.

But the Kenyan public has also become increasingly alert and responsive to terrorist attacks.

At three levels, Dusit unveiled the expanding footprint of the al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, one of Africa’s deadliest terrorist outfits as well as the face of terrorism in Kenya, which claimed responsibility for the attack.

First, the attack represented a new hybrid operation involving the coordination of radicalised individuals (lone wolfs) mobilised separately but converging on a target and operating as a team during the attack to evade detection by security agencies, maximise the impact of the attack and hopefully minimise casualties.

SUSPECTS

Second, the attack also exposed Al-Shabaab’s growing network of ‘home-grown’ terrorists across the country.

In the Dusit aftermath, the police have netted suspected collaborators of the terrorists across the country, reveal the growing number of local Kenyans recruited and radicalised to Islamism, referred to by Al-Shabaab’s core members as the “Kenyan Mujahideen”.

The new Kenyan insurgents have a different ethnic profile from the Somali and Arab militants, enabling them to blend in with the general population of Kenya, thus it harder for security forces to track them.

In the 2015-2017 interlude, in the wake of the massive security sweep known as “Operation Usalama Watch” in April 2014, the Al-Shabaab has invested in building a more multi-ethnic generation of fighters in Kenya.

This devious strategy has enabled it to essentially use local Kenyans to do its “dirty work” while its core members escape back to Somalia unscathed.

RECRUITS

By the end of 2014, the figure of indigenous Kenyan fighters was estimated at around 25 percent of Al-Shabaab's total forces, and may have increased to over 30 percent.

In 2016, alone, the authorities confirmed that more than 20 youth from Isiolo had joined the Somali-based jihadist organisation.

Among the new genre of indigenous Mujahideen is Eric Kinyanjui Munyi, reported to have been the commander of the Dusit attackers.

The other is Ali Salim Gichunge, alias Farouk, who also died in the attack.

Recruited by Al-Shabaab in 2015, Gichunge, who grew up in Isiolo and Nyeri, was, paradoxically, the son of Abdullah Salim Gichunge, a Sergeant in the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) fighting Al-Shabaab since 2011.

Last December, he visited his Majengo home in Nyeri perhaps to link up with other Somali-trained youth.

BRIDES

Third, Dusit has also unveiled the female face of Jihad. Women are the newest face of jihad as the front line fighters and suicide bombers.

Since 2016, Boko Haram and the Islamic State have increasingly used female fighters as women as a tactical response to tight security.

Regarded as victims rather than perpetrators of violence, the woman jihadist is a safe pair of hands who raises little or no suspicion during security operations.

On September 11, 2016, three women affiliated to ISIS stormed the Central Police Station in Mombasa, hurled a petrol bomb in an attempt to burn down the station, physically attacked and injured police officers using knives before being overpowered and killed.

However, Al-Shabaab women recruits are still Jihad brides, sometimes offering logistical support.

A case in point is Violet Wanjiru (alias Kemunto), wife of the one of the masterminds of the attack, Ali Salim Gichunge, who reportedly escaped to Somalia after the Dusit attack.

POVERTY

The Gichunges are not your textbook poor youth attracted to Al-Shabaab by poverty.

They are part of Kenya’s emerging youthful middle class living a lavish life.

Last year, they took a holiday to the Coast to celebrate the first anniversary of their wedding in 2016.

Wanjiru, who lived with her Al-Shabaab husband in Muchatha, Kiambu, holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations (2014) from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology and previously worked with a phone shop in Nairobi.

She is a classic devoted actor who described herself as an Al-Shabaab bride on her WhatsApp profile and who approved of her husband’s Jihadist agenda.

ACCOMPLICES

Another female figure in the Dusit attack is Mariam Abdi, who was to the Dusit attack what Samantha Louise Lewthwaite, famously known as the ‘White Widow’, was to the Westgate attack.

Suspected to have masterminded the attack, Mariam served as the conduit for cash transfers to the terrorists and facilitated the ferrying of bomb-making materials and weapons used in the attack from Kiunga in Lamu to Mombasa last December.

In the wake of the triumph by the Kenyan forces, Al-Shabaab might increasingly turn to using females as fighters.

Facing the future, the Dusit attack has showed that the Nyumba Kumi (10 houses) Initiative is working.

In the face of the growing indigenous Mujahideen, the government should invest more in the plan.

Prof Kagwanja is former Government Adviser and currently the Chief Executive at the Africa Policy Institute.

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