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Militants change game plan, hurt war against terrorism

Kenya and Tanzania have made some progress in dismantling terrorist networks, but the war is far from over as the Somalia militant group Al Shabaab and its affiliates keep on changing tack.

The two countries have been collaborating in the war against terror since 1998, when Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda announced its presence to the world by simultaneously attacking US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

In Kenya, Al Shabaab is now infiltrating rural populations mainly on the coast and northeastern as opposed to staging major attacks in the cities. The group has also resorted to attacking infrastructure such as telephone masts, police stations and planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on link roads.

In Tanzania, the yet to be named group is driving a wedge between the natural resource-rich areas that still remain poor, against other regions that have prospered despite lacking resources. 

Reports suggest this is the case in the southern coast of the country in Mtwara and Lindi, where a gang with unscrupulous dealings is instilling feelings that the areas have been marginalised and consequently remain poor despite their vast natural resources.

They have also resorted to attacking police officers in order to collect arms. Last year, for example, a gang killed eight police in Kibiti district and escaped with seven firearm.
Pre-empting attacks

In Kenya, Al Shabaab elements are living among local communities while keenly monitoring the movement of law enforcers. In return, the infiltrators pledge not to harm the residents and only to target government installations, especially communication equipment and personnel.

On January 14, for example, more than 100 heavily armed suspected Al Shabaab militants ambushed Ishakani Village in Lamu County and preached to the residents for about one hour without fear of retaliation from security forces.

Security analysts believe the elements are living among local communities because the movement of a group of 100 attackers are unlikely to pass unnoticed from across the border.

But Mwenda Njoka, the spokesperson for Kenya’s ministry of interior told The EastAfrican that there was a major shift in how the government deals with counter-terrorism.

“Before, we used to handle terrorism as any other crime, but with the advice of the National Security Advisory Committee, we have come up with a proactive policy of scuttling attacks before they happen,” said Mr Njoka.

For example, increased intelligence and border patrols, and collaboration with the US through Security Governance Initiative that involves six African countries, has enabled the government to pre-empt many attacks that was not possible before.

Training

Last year, the Global Terrorism Index report placed Kenya as the third most affected in the world behind Iraq and Nigeria. Kenya rated 6.6 out of 10, Nigeria 7.5 and the leading Iraq rated 9.96.

Security experts say that Harakat Al-Shabaab Mujahideen, an Qaeda-allied group based in Somalia, is now the biggest threat to Kenya because it mainly recruits citizens who are conversant with local surroundings and language.

“The terrorists lie in wait and attack when complacency sets in among the security agents,” said Twalib Mbarak, a security analyst.

In Tanzania, there were reports of an unnamed gang recruiting or abducting youth and children to train them in terror operations since 2016. 

Former Dar es Salaam police commander (now IGP), Simon Sirro issued similar alerts saying they had raided a terrorist camp in a village near Dar es Salaam.

“A nine-year boy managed to dismantle the military gun in front of the police officers who had found him in a certain training hideout,” he said then.

A police operation around Kilongoni forests in Vikindu Coast region, discovered the hideout and succeeded to arrest the suspects who were training in military tactics and religious radicalism at a house belonging to a man identified as Selemani.