Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 20, 17 January 2020

Kenya: Al Shabab and a week of killings
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In news

On January 5, Al-Shabab extremists attacked Camp Simba, a key military base used by US counterterror forces in Lamu, Kenya, killing a US military service member and two defence contractors. The Kenyan Defence Forces stated that there was an attempt to breach security at Manda Air Strip but it was intercepted by them.

Two days later, a vehicle belonging to the Medina Bus Company was attacked in the Kotulo area between the towns of Wajir and Mandera which is close to the border of Somalia. At least 10 people, including several police officers, have been killed when gunmen attacked a bus in northeast Kenya. Al Shabab took responsibility for the attacks, stating that it had killed people who were secret security agents and government employees.

Suspected Al-Shabab fighters attacked a primary school in Garissa a county that borders Somalia on January 8. At least four students have been killed by this attack.

Issues at Large 

The Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab, based in Somalia, has used Kenya as a key base for its fighting. The group is an affiliate of Al-Qaeda rose as a reaction to Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion of Somalia, which targeted the Islamic Courts Union’s control of the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The group has carried out more than 150 violent operations targeting civilians, universities and other places especially Kenya since their intervention in Somalia in 2011. Al-Shabaab seeks to overthrow Somalia’s government and impose its version of Islamic law in the country. They demanded the withdrawal of troops of the African Union (AU) and other multinational peacekeeping operations in the region that were launched in Somalia in 2007 with the authorization of the United Nations and the backing of the US.

In perspective 

These attacks by Al Shabab mark a prominent escalation of the group’s agenda for their attacks inside Kenya. Their attacks are also a retaliation to the US’s increasing military presence in the country. Although Trump's administration has increased aid and military engagement in Somalia, where al-Shabab have been most active. Several global efforts have been made to defeat Islamist terrorism; however, the group’s activities have not been contained.

Al-Shabab still retains control over large areas of rural Somalia and continues to carry out attacks in the region. The group has claimed responsibility for the Camp attack on Sunday and stated that it was part of its “Jerusalem will never be Judaized” campaign, a reference that has been made before.

These increasing attacks confirm Al-Shabab's influence, despite being removed from the main areas, still has a dominant presence in the cities and towns and is probably increasing again. This calls for immediate and effective measures to be taken by all actors in the region, the Somalian and Kenyan Governments along with international actors like the UN, the US, and the AU.

Abigail Miriam Fernandez is a postgraduate student at the Department of International Studies, Stella Maris College, Chennai. She can be contacted at

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