Shabaab steps up attacks in Kenya

Al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, Shabaab, has increased its operational tempo in northern Kenya over the past few weeks. Dozens of people have been killed by both ambushes and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in the Kenyan provinces of Garissa, Mandera, and Lamu.

In a statement released on Shabaab’s Shahada News Agency, the group’s military spokesman, Abdul Aziz Abu Musab, said that the jihadists have launched 11 attacks inside Kenya in a three week period. However, more attacks attributed to Shabaab have been reported. The majority of these incidents were perpetrated in Kenya’s Garissa County near the border with Somalia.

On May 8, seven Kenyan police officers were wounded near the town of Liboi when their vehicle hit an IED. Four days later, Shabaab targeted the town of Amuma. On May 16, four people were killed near Liboi also after striking an IED. A week later, three more police officers were killed by an IED in the same town. Just a day later, five other police officers were killed near the same area.  On June 2, one person was killed when Shabaab targeted the town of Fafi. Today, four people were killed by an IED in the nearby town of Kulan.

In Mandera County, attacks have also occurred with a similar frequency. Shabaab was blamed for killing two miners in a quarry in Mandera on May 12. On May 16, Shabaab militants targeted a government official in the town of Omar Jillo, killing one and abducting two. A day later, a vehicle hit an IED near El Wak. On May 24, five police officers were killed in Mandera as part of an assassination attempt on the governor of Mandera County.

While in Lamu County, eight people, including seven police officers, were killed in an IED attack in the Baure region on May 31. Two more police officers were killed by an IED later that day responding to the earlier incident. A Kenyan military convoy was targeted yesterday in Wajir County, however, no injuries were reported.

Shabaab has long conducted military operations inside Kenya, often along the border with Somalia. Many of these cross-border raids were carried out by Shabaab’s Jaysh Ayman, which is responsible for these types of attacks.  Shabaab was also behind a deadly terrorist attack on Garissa University in early 2015. The jihadists stormed the university and killed 148 people and wounded many more. In 2013, Shabaab also perpetrated the Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi.

The increased operational tempo comes as Shabaab has also ramped up its rhetoric against Kenya, which has battled Shabaab’s forces inside Somalia for years. Two weeks ago, the al Qaeda branch released a video where its spokesman, Ali Mahmoud Rage, called on Kenyan jihadists to form an army. Speaking to Kenyan graduates of a Shabaab training camp in Somalia, Rage said “You have to be the army that will conquer Kenya so that we may return to our families and relatives in a state of honor and glory.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Shabaab spokesman calls on Kenyan jihadists to form an ‘army’.]

Shabaab’s attacks and propaganda against Kenya are unlikely to slow as the group continues to gain strength. Over the past year, Shabaab has regained control of some towns and rural areas in Somalia’s south that it lost during an AMISOM offensive that began in 2011. In addition, Shabaab has stepped up suicide attacks and guerrilla operations both in and around the capital of Mogadishu.

Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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