Al-Shabaab, a Somali militant group believed to be a part of the African terror syndicate comprising of groups such as the Al Qaeda in Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram and Ansaru Islamists, carried out their most gruesome attack on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the American embassy. This time round, their target was students in a university. Four attackers stormed into the Kenyan University of Garissa in the early hours of April 2 and killed 147 people before they were killed by security personnel. On the face of it, this seems to be one of the series of retaliatory attacks that the group vowed to deliver due to the involvement of Kenyan troops against the militants in Somalia.
The modus operandi adopted by the terrorists resembled their earlier attacks on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, in 2013 and acts of violence in the North and along the coast- especially in Mandera and Lamu. The four attackers made it a point not to hurt Muslim students while killing Christians on the spot.
The Kenyan government tripled the bounty to over $200000, on Muhamed Muhamud’s head after this attack. He is believed to be control the militia along the Kenya- Somalia border and leads cross border raids in to Kenya.
The scale of the killing and the chilling modus operandi of separating the students seem to be similar to what the ISIS employs; Shock and Awe-mujahideen style. Al Shabaab’s possible fondness towards the ISIS may be driven by two developments- one, the severing of formal relations between Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab following the death of former leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, as attested by Al Shabaab’s former intelligence chief on April 3. Two, Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance and the alleged ISIS acceptance of the pledge may have gotten the Somali militant leadership contemplating switching sides. These developments must be seen in the context of a struggle for influence between Al Qaeda and its bastard child – ISIS.
Despite being one of East Africa’s more prosperous countries, Kenya struggles to deal with endemic corruption that is responsible for its continuing poverty. Despite a GDP of over $55 bn and relatively small population of 44 mn, close to 46% of its citizens are below the poverty line. On being asked why they are joining Al Shabaab, young militants reply ‘financial stability’. It is becoming clearer and clearer that while the groups’ leaders may be ideologically motivated, the bulk of their cadre have no real career opportunities except to be a mujahid. A situation that painfully echoes across continents all the way from Mali to Bali.
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