For months, the Kenyan security forces have been rounding up ethnic Somalis in Nairobi. This is part of a security operation (Operation Usalama Watch) which presumes that terrorists in Kenya are solely of Somali origin.
This presumption is wrong and is a clear manifestation of the decades-long discrimination of Somalis and other Muslims in the country. The discrimination plays into the hands of Al-Shabaab, which uses stories of Muslim oppression in Kenya to recruit members and justify attacks in the country.
Al-Shabaab’s foreign operations arm is heavily populated by members of non-Somali ethnic background; this makes it operationally easier to insert these individuals into Al-Shabaab targets in neighbouring countries.
On 15th June, Al-Shabaab gunmen attacked the town of Mpeketoni in Kenya, killing around 60 people. The Kenyan government’s initial response was, for domestic political reasons, to deny that Al-Shabaab had carried out the attack.
While the Kenyan government seemed to have been caught off guard and unprepared, Al-Shabaab had warned of an impending attack weeks before it took place.
In mid-May, the Emir of Al-Shabaab, Ahmed Godane (Abu Zubayr), called on Muslims in Kenya to rise up and fight the state. He also addressed the Kenyan government, saying that it had made a historic mistake by attacking Al-Shabaab territory in Somalia. This had led to insecurity in Kenya, the bloodletting of the Kenyan army and the resultant weakening of the Kenyan economy.
He continued, saying that Kenya should not do “a second stupid thing” by harming Muslim honour and blood in their country, because “The Westgate Operation is not far off from you”.
This kind of pre-attack warning falls within the Al-Shabaab practise of publicly referring to such events before they take place. Abu Zubayr released audio messages warning of both the Kampala attacks in 2010 and of the Westgate attacks last year. The above message was a clear warning of an impending high casualty attack and of an escalation of the insurgency in the Somali part of Kenya.
On 19th May, Al-Shabaab ambushed Kenyan troops near Mandera inside Kenya, taking light arms and vehicles from security forces. Following the ambush, on 20th May Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Dhere said that the Kenyans would be spared attacks in their country if they withdraw troops from Somalia: “your safety depends on our safety…if you want to leave our country; we will treat you as you treat us.”
On 22nd May, speaking at a rally in Bardhere town in Gedo region where weapons taken from the Kenyans in the Mandera ambush were being displayed to the public, Sheikh Fuad Mohamed Khalaf – a senior Al-Shabab member – called for Somalis and other Muslim people in Kenya to take up arms against the Kenyan state for its suppression of Muslim rights.
Sheikh Fuad made a case for the killing of Kenyan civilians because their troops are killing Muslim civilians in Somalia:
“The Muslim people in Kenya should take up arms; Kenya should be attacked, its state should be destroyed. As is written in the Quran when the disbelievers oppress by killing children and women… Allah has said if they punish you or hurt you, do to them like what they did to you. By God’s permission, we will fight Kenya, we will concentrate our efforts in Kenya…”
Sheikh Fuad also tells us that most Al-Shabaab members operating within Kenya are of Kenyan origin and are victims of its government’s policies towards Muslims.
“We are training Muslim boys from Kenya who had been oppressed there, and we return them back there. The ones that we sent and killed your troops [in Mandera] are these; the ones we are going to send your way are much more than the ones we have already sent, by the permission of Allah…I end this by saying that we will move the war to Nairobi – and it is a promise we made to Allah”