Somalia’s al-Shabaab Threatens to Occupy North-Eastern Kenya

Andrew McGregor

April 30, 2009

Kenyan officials claim to have received warnings from al-Qaeda and Somalia’s al-Shabaab movement that they intend to invade Kenya’s North Eastern Province to annex the region to Somalia and implement Shari’a law. Provincial Commissioner Kimeu Maingi expressed concern at the influx of small arms into the dominantly ethnic-Somali region and claimed that the recent kidnappings of Kenyan citizens at the border town of Mandera was intended to provoke a reaction from the Kenyan government. Maingi noted it was unjustifiable for provincial residents to keep demanding food aid from the central government when they are exchanging their livestock for arms, adding that the government had moved extra troops up to the border as part of its continuing disarmament campaign (Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, April 26).

somalia kenya border map(BBC)

Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Richard Onyonka declared al-Shabaab had little chance of carrying out its plan, stating, “Kenya is a sovereign country and no person or country will come and threaten the government. We have the capacity and ability to stave off any incursions from anybody else” (Capital FM Radio [Nairobi], April 27; Daily Nation [Nairobi], April 27).

The Somali government of President Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad condemned the threats, noting al-Shabaab’s opposition to government efforts to implement shari’a in Somalia. Somali Minister of Commerce Abdirashid Irro Muhammad said, “Really, we are very sorry and we condemn such actions. Kenya is our neighbor state and our brotherly country, and they have their own constitution. So there is no reason that al-Shabaab should attack them and endorse the Shari’a law… They are getting orders from the outside Islamic world and really they are not interested whether we will implement the Shari’a law or not” (VOA, April 28). So far, al-Shabaab has not commented on the alleged threats, nor has the Kenyan government released the text of the warning.

The chairman of al-Shabaab’s “Islamic administration” in Gedo, Shaykh Isma’il Adan Haji, recently attacked the government’s introduction of shari’a, describing it as an “apostate regime’s” unacceptable attempt to “dupe the people” (Shabelle Media Network, April 26).

Kenya has received threats from al-Shabaab before, in connection with its provision of military training for Somali government troops, its practice of extraditing Somali nationals to Ethiopia for questioning by U.S. intelligence services and its declared intention to send a battalion of Kenyan troops to join the undermanned African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Fighting between ethnic Somali clans in the Mandera region of Kenya’s North-Eastern Province intensified last fall. Kenyan intelligence sources claimed that the arms and funding that the rival groups were receiving from allies across the Somali border constituted a threat to national security (NTV [Nairobi], October 30, 2008).


This article first appeared in the April 30, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor 

Kenyan al-Qaeda Leaders Killed in Waziristan Missile Strike

Andrew McGregor

January 15, 2009

Two Kenyan nationals were among those killed in a New Year’s Day missile strike on a house in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal agency. Although the strike occurred on January 1, the identities of those killed were not confirmed until January 9. Although U.S. officials do not comment officially on missile attacks in the Frontier region of Pakistan, it is believed the attack was carried out by a Hellfire missile launched from a CIA Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) (Daily Nation, Nairobi, January 9; Daily Times [Lahore], January 10; al-Jazeera, January 9).

Kenyans 1Osama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ali Msalam)

The two Kenyans are believed to have been associated with al-Qaeda since the mid-1990s. Osama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ali Msalam) was wanted in connection with numerous bombings in Pakistan, including the 2008 Danish Embassy suicide attack and the September 20, 2008, bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. Al-Kini was also a suspect in a foiled attempt to assassinate former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (Daily Nation, January 9).

Kenyans 2Shaykh Ahmad Salim Swedan

Both Mombasa native al-Kini and his Kenyan lieutenant, Shaykh Ahmad Salim Swedan, were wanted for their roles in the deadly 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam and had five-million dollar bounties on their heads. According to a Kenyan security official, “Kini received money from al-Qaeda to run the East African cells. He was a logistician for the terrorists in this region before he went to Pakistan” (The Standard [Nairobi], January 11). Al-Kini first trained in Afghanistan in 1994 before returning to Kenya. Following the embassy bombings he fled to Pakistan. After becoming head of al-Qaeda operations in the Zabul province of Afghanistan in late 2001, al-Kini rose to become al-Qaeda’s operations chief for Pakistan.

Shaykh Ahmad Salim Swedan also fled Kenya after the embassy bombings but sneaked back to carry out the Kikamabala bombing in 2002 before fleeing again to Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.

The strike took place in the village of Karikot, where seven suspected militants from Punjab province were killed in a pair of missile strikes on December 21, 2008. The area is dominated by Ahmadzai Wazir fighters led by Maulvi Nazir, an opponent of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mahsud (The Nation [Islamabad], December 23).

This article first appeared in the January 15, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Somali Islamists Threaten Kenya’s Peacekeeping Deployment

Andrew McGregor

November 26, 2008

In an effort to prop up Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Kenya has decided to send a battalion of troops to join the undermanned African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which has only 3,000 of its authorized strength of 8,000 troops (Afrique en Ligne, November 18). Kenya has so far tried to avoid becoming embroiled militarily in the Somali conflict, though it has provided military training for TFG troops.

kdf somaliaKenyan Troops in South-Western Somalia

With a mandate calling for support of the unpopular Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Somalia’s insurgents regard the AU peacekeepers as being little better than the Ethiopian occupation force. There have been frequent and sometimes fatal attacks on Ugandan and Burundian troops, the only countries so far to actually send soldiers to Somalia as part of their commitment to the AMISOM peacekeeping force. TFG forces appear unlikely to be able to pick up the slack once Ethiopian troops have fully withdrawn – they are sporadically paid, have little commitment to the TFG and devote much of their effort to looting merchant warehouses in Mogadishu. Under pressure, most of these forces can be counted on to go home or defect to Islamist formations.

Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of the Eritrean-based faction of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), warned last week that efforts to replace Ethiopian occupation troops with Kenyan peacekeepers would “meet with nothing but failure… We will fight them like we fought the Ethiopians” (Radio Shabelle, November 20). Aweys has spoken in the past of forming a “greater Somalia,” incorporating the Somali minorities living in eastern Ethiopia and northeastern Kenya. As Islamic Courts Union (ICU) chairman, Aweys once declared, “We will leave no stone unturned to integrate our Somali brothers in Kenya and Ethiopia and restore their freedom to live with their ancestors in Somalia” (AP, November 19, 2006).

Responding to reports that Kenyan troops would attempt to occupy south Somalia as far north as the port of Kismayo (currently occupied by Somali Islamist forces), the Shaykh said, “I’m specifically warning Kenya. I was told that Kenya said that it will send troops [to Somalia]… I warn Kenya that it should not pay any interest to this matter, because Ethiopia has already failed. I understand that Kenya is planning to deploy up to Kismayo town. Kenya should not burn the thatched house that it is living in” (Radio Shabelle, November 20).

Rejecting the position taken by rival Djibouti-based ARS leader Shaykh Sharif Ahmad, who has entered into an agreement with the TFG, Shaykh Aweys asserted that his faction would continue the campaign against foreign occupation: “We still stick to our position, we stick to fighting, we stick to holy war, we stick to liberation” (Radio Shabelle, November 20).

A spokesman from the Shabaab administration of Kismayo, Abdigani Shaykh Muhammad, announced, “If Kenya sends soldiers into Somalia, then we will recognize Kenya as an invader like Ethiopia, Uganda and Burundi” (Radio Garowe, November 20). Al-Shabaab is the most radical of the Islamist factions fighting the TFG and the Ethiopian troops supporting it. Its leader, Shaykh Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur,” has pledged his allegiance to al-Qaeda, but there is little evidence of operational ties as of yet. Abu Mansur threatened to bring a “jihadi war” to Kenya in October, over Kenya’s provision of military training to 10,000 TFG recruits (see Terrorism Focus, November 5). Al-Shabaab is also angered by Kenya’s practice of extraditing Somali nationals to Ethiopia, where they are detained and questioned by U.S. intelligence. The Shabaab spokesman warned that the Islamists will “wage attacks inside Kenya” if the deployment to Somalia goes ahead.

With the TFG now exerting control over only parts of Mogadishu and Baidoa (and in daylight hours only), the gradual withdrawal of Ethiopian forces threatens to spell the end for the TFG, many of whose members already prefer the safety of Nairobi to a precarious existence in the Somali capital. The urgency of the situation was reflected in a three-day visit last week to Addis Ababa by the U.S. AFRICOM Commander, General William “Kip” Ward. The General held meetings with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and numerous Ethiopian military commanders (, November 20;, November 21).

TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf admits that his government is “on the verge of a total collapse.” The government has failed to name a new cabinet, and the President is unable to work with the Prime Minister. Referring to the rapid fall of town after town to advancing Islamist forces, Yusuf warned, “It is every man for himself if the government collapses… The Islamists kill city cleaners, they will not spare legislators” (al-Jazeera, November 16).

This article first appeared in the November 26, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Somali Conflict Spills over into Kenya

Andrew McGregor

November 5, 2008

Kenyan security agencies were put on high alert on October 30 in response to threats from Somalia’s al-Shabaab movement. Al-Shabaab leader Shaykh Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur” issued a threat in mid-October to begin “a jihadi war in Kenya” if Kenya did not cease military training for some 10,000 recruits belonging to the forces of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) (Afrol News, October 16; Independent, October 17).

Harun FazulHarun Fazul (a.k.a. Fazul Abdullah Muhammad), 2004

An internal Kenyan government memo warned, “Information reaching our frontier control department indicates that al-Qaeda terrorist organizations under the leadership of one Harun Fazul [Fazul Abdullah Muhammad] are planning to attack vital installations and Western Interests in Kenya and Uganda” (Nairobi Star, October 31). In September there were fears Harun Fazul (who is wanted for his role in the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings in East Africa) was planning attacks in the Ugandan capital of Kampala in retaliation for Uganda’s participation in the UNISOM peacekeeping force. Fazul was believed to be in the vicinity of the Kenyan town of Malindi at the time, where he evaded a security dragnet.

In what police describe as a “massive operation,” security forces have attempted to close the usually lightly guarded Kenyan-Somali border. On October 30, Kenyan police discovered 600 bomb detonators on a bus headed for the Mandera region of northeast Kenya – a possible indication of an impending escalation of violence in the area, already beset by clan fighting (Nairobi Star, October 31).

In the third week of October, Kenyan police and military forces began a large-scale security operation in the Mandera region, where most of the population is ethnic Somali, with close ties to related groups across the border in Somalia. The operation came in response to continued fighting between the Murule and Gharri clans. The conflict between the two groups has existed in one form or another for decades, but became heated in recent weeks after relative calm since a peace agreement was signed in 2005. The Murule and Gharri appear to have aligned themselves with rival clans within Somalia’s larger Marehaan group. According to some reports, Nairobi now views the clan fighting in Mandera as a potential threat to national security, as Kenyan intelligence reports that arms and funding from Somali clans and the extremist al-Shabaab movement are reaching the combatants in Mandera (NTV [Nairobi], October 30). There are also fears the weapons being shipped to Mandera may be passed onwards to intensify ethnic and political conflicts elsewhere in Kenya.

Security forces seized a small amount of communications equipment, which they said was used to coordinate illegal border crossings and monitor the movement of security personnel (NTV [Nairobi], October 30). The clans, however, have charged the security forces with using excessive violence (Daily Nation [Nairobi], November 3). Hundreds of people have been admitted to local hospitals with fractures, cuts and internal bleeding they say are the result of beatings and torture by security forces looking for concealed weapons. Kenyan police insist the wounds and injuries are self-inflicted and part of a campaign to stop the military operation (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 1; IRIN, October 31).

There are reports that as many as half a million people have become displaced due to the fighting, which began with disputes over pasture land and scarce resources (The Standard [Nairobi], November 2). Some local leaders are urging an arbitration panel of religious scholars rather than a military campaign to reduce violence in the region, but the military says it will remain until it has completed its disarmament mission.


This article first appeared in the November 5, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Mystery of Arms Ship Seized by Somali Pirates Grows Deeper

Andrew McGregor

October 30, 2008

In the holds of the Ukrainian cargo-ship MV (Motor Vessel) Faina, seized by Somali pirates in September, are 33 Russian-designed T-72 battle tanks and a substantial cargo of grenade launchers, anti-aircraft guns, small arms and ammunition. Kenya and Ukraine both insist the arms and armor are destined for the Kenyan Department of Defense to replace Kenya’s 1970s vintage Vickers MK 3 tanks (Daily Nation, September 29; AFP, September 28). At the moment, Kenya’s armed forces do not use any Russian-designed equipment and Kenyan military sources have been reported as saying no training on the Ukrainian/Russian-built equipment has taken place, normal purchasing procedures were not followed and the Department of Defense was only informed of the shipment after it had been seized by the Somali pirates (Daily Nation, September 29).

 MV Faina 1Somali Pirates on the MV Faina (Aftonbladet)

A shipping document found on the vessel by Somali pirates indicates the arms are headed for “GOSS,” the usual acronym for the Government of South Sudan. Ukrainian and Kenyan officials insist the acronym stands for “General Ordinance Supplies and Security,” an apparently meaningless phrase that some Kenyan military officials say they have never seen before (Sudan Tribune, October 8). Kenyan government spokesman Dr. Alfred Mutua says Nairobi is still hopeful the MV Faina will be released “and we will get our cargo” (Daily Nation, October 23).

There are claims from maritime shipping observers that the MV Faina is actually the fifth ship in the last year involved in shipping arms and tanks through the Kenyan port of Mombasa to South Sudan (The National [UAE], September 29, BBC, October 7). 50 tanks destined for the SPLA were seized in Mombasa in February, though the fate of this shipment is uncertain (Sudan Tribune, February 15; Al-Ray al-Aam [Khartoum], February 15, Juba Post, February 22). With the status of Sudan’s oil fields still in dispute, South Sudan appears to be arming in preparation for a resumption of Sudan’s Civil War following the 2011 South Sudan independence referendum. The T-72’s would be more than a match for Khartoum’s Chinese-designed Type 59 (al-Zubayr) tanks, a copy of the Russian-designed T-54, though more modern Type 96 (al-Bashir) tanks were unveiled in a military parade last December. Nevertheless, an SPLA spokesman denied the weapons were destined for South Sudan, saying the SPLA was not yet “advanced enough” to receive shipments of modern weapons (Reuters, September 29). There are no indications that SPLA personnel are receiving the extensive training needed before they could make use of the MV Faina’s cargo.

Khartoum announced last week that senior Sudanese officials will not be attending the October 26-28 Nairobi meeting of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD – an important regional organization that includes Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Djibouti). The snub comes only days after Sudan cancelled a meeting intended to seal a deal providing Kenya with discounted Sudanese oil (Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 22).

Both moves are seen as expressions of Khartoum’s displeasure with the use of Mombasa as a port for unauthorized arms shipments to land-locked South Sudan. Under the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan, all arms purchases by the southern Sudanese People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) must be approved by the central government. Khartoum has also accused Ethiopia of supplying arms to the SPLA (Reuters, October 13). Shipments of arms to South Sudan do not violate the current UN arms embargo, as has been reported elsewhere.

On October 27, Russia announced that it had been given permission by Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to take military action against Somali pirates (ITAR-TASS, October 27). The Russian Baltic fleet guided-missile frigate Neustrashimy is now in Somali waters and is prepared to “take part in joint operations against pirates together with the vessels of foreign naval forces” (Kommersant, October 28). The MV Faina is currently surrounded by ships of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet determined to ensure the arms are not offloaded. Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union (ICU) resistance movement has denied any involvement in the hijacking, noting that the ICU had eliminated piracy in 2006 (Reuters, September 29).

Confusing the issue is a recent statement by anonymous Yemeni government sources that the tanks and other arms on the MV Faina were destined for Yemen, not South Sudan (Yemen Post, October 20).Yemen is currently the world’s fourth largest importer of Russian arms, many of which are resold to third parties, and has just concluded a deal with Moscow to allow Russian naval ships to “use its ports for reaching strategic objectives” (Yemen Times, October 18). The Neustrashimy docked in Aden before heading for Somali waters. Amidst the rising tensions, Yemen has announced the postponement of this week’s regional summit on piracy, scheduled to be held in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a (Yemen Post, October 20).

MV Faina 2T-72 Tanks being Offloaded from the MV Faina (Gideon Maunu)

(AIS Update: The MV Faina was released by its captors on February 5, 2009 after the payment of a $3.2 million ransom by the ship’s Ukrainian owners. The T-72 tanks were offloaded in Kenya, allegedly destined for a Kenyan military base according to the Nairobi government. U.S. satellite photos later revealed the armor was sent on to South Sudan in violation of the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), for which Kenya was a guarantor. See and  for relevant U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.)


Al-Qaeda Manhunt in Kenya

Andrew McGregor

January 9, 2006

Kenya is widely remembered as the site of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing that killed over 200 people and cast al-Qaeda into international prominence. The attack was followed by a 2002 suicide car bombing that targeted a hotel popular with Israelis near Mombassa and the attempted destruction of an Israeli airliner. In both incidents, the vast majority of victims were Kenyans. There is, however, a great difference in the perception of the ongoing terrorist threat in Nairobi and Washington. Over Kenyan opposition the U.S. has issued a new terrorist warning for Kenya, damaging the important Kenyan tourism industry. Kenyan officials claim their country is largely free from terrorist threat and is unfairly blamed for its unavoidable proximity to lawless Somalia.

Somalia KenyaThe warning cites “continuing terrorist threats and the limited ability of the Kenyan authorities to deter and detect such acts” (U.S. State Department, December 30). One day after the warning was issued Kenyan Internal Security announced they were intensifying their search for suspected al-Qaeda members. Of special interest are two Mombassa-born Kenyans, Ahmad Salim Swedan and Salah Ali Salah Nabhan, both indicted in the U.S. for leading roles in the 1998 bombing and suspected of planning the 2002 attacks. Nabhan is believed to be living in Mogadishu. Kenyan security officials claim that al-Qaeda is active in the country only through infiltrators from Somalia. Muslims constitute about 10 percent of Kenya’s population and are a majority in the port city of Mombassa.

U.S. and Israeli officials are highly displeased with the June 2005 acquittals of seven suspects brought to trial on conspiracy charges in the 2002 hotel bombing. Charges of planning a new attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 2003 were dropped. The lack of convictions has fostered perceptions the U.S. that the Kenyan government is not serious about terrorism.

Despite the development of well-trained counter-terrorist forces, large areas of the sensitive Somali-Kenyan border remain poorly administered and beyond the operational range of conventional Kenyan police or their anti-terrorist squadrons. The recent seizure of a rocket launcher and ammunition by the poorly equipped Administration Police (AP) was the result of solid police work following a tip that weapons were being brought across the border. Without radios or other communications equipment, an AP constable had to wait two days to hitch a ride from a UN vehicle to the closest regular Kenyan police detachment to report the arrest (The Nation [Nairobi], January 3). With drought and a growing food shortage in the region there are fears of large-scale movement of nomads across the border that may be exploited by members of the al-Qaeda connected al-Ittihad movement. There are also security concerns in Mombassa, where the port security chief was recently murdered when he failed to accept a bribe to stop investigation of a large container-theft syndicate. A Kenyan MP and his family are being investigated in the killing (The Nation, January 4).

The U.S. occupation of Iraq is unpopular in Kenya, and the renewal of the terrorism advisory has been widely condemned by government and the media. The United States maintains a counter-terrorist force in Djibouti (known as the Combined Joint Task Force for the Horn of Africa) that has participated with Kenya in combined military exercises designed to combat regional terrorist activity. Although further security assistance has been offered to Kenya by both the U.S. and the EU, persistent corruption at all levels of government is hindering international cooperation and threatens foreign aid.


This article first appeared in the January 9, 2006 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focua