17 June 2014

Two attacks at Mpeketoni: Terrorists or local political networks?

File photo: al-Shabaab fighters

Today Kenya is mourning the massacre of 64 villagers from Mpeketoni, Lamu.

Sunday, 15 June 2014 
At least 49 people died after al-Qaeda-linked militants attacked Mpeketoni, a small Kenyan coastal town near Lamu Island. Witnesses said gun battles lasted several hours, while several buildings were set on fire. The gunmen shot dead anyone who was unable to recite verses from the Koran.

District Deputy Commissioner Benson Maisori said hotels, restaurants, banks and government offices had been torched. "There were 30-50 attackers, heavily armed in three vehicles, and they were flying the al-Shabaab flag. They shouted in Somali, 'Allahu Akbar' (God is Great)," he said.

Lamu County Police Commander Leonard Omollo told Reuters news agency that the gunmen singled out men, sparing the lives of women and children.

Somalia's al-Shabaab group said the attack was carried out to avenge the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia and the killing of Muslims. Kenya sent troops to Somalia in 2011 to help the weak UN-backed government defeat the militants.

This is the most deadly attack in Kenya since September 2013, when at least 67 people were killed during a siege by al-Shabaab fighters at Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall.

Kenya's Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said police fought fierce battles with the gunmen, who fled into a nearby forest.

The attack started at 8:30pm local time on Sunday, June 15th, as locals watched a World Cup football match on television. "I heard them shouting in Somali as they fired around. I lost two of my brothers and I escaped,” stated John Waweru, resident of Mpeketoni.

Other witnesses said the gunmen, who had their faces covered, threw explosives into the local police station before entering and stealing weapons.

Monday, 16 June 2014
Another attack in the area of Mpeketoni left at least 15 dead, including two police officers dead, police have confirmed.

At least 12 women were reportedly abducted during the latest attack by suspected Islamists on Kenya's coast, residents have told the BBC. 

"There's no time to mourn, we're just burying the victims," a resident told BBC's Anne Soy in the town.

Al-Shabaab later claimed responsibility for the attacks, although the government appeared to suggest that it was the product of local political incitement and involved land disputes.

A statement from Al-Shabaab said the attacks were revenge for the “Kenyan government’s brutal oppression of Muslims in Kenya through coercion, intimidation and extrajudicial killings of Muslim scholars.”

"We raided villages around Mpeketoni again last night," al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters on Tuesday. 

Editorial from the Daily Nation (a local newspaper):
Al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamist group, has claimed responsibility for the Sunday night attack, which it says is in revenge for the killing of preachers.

There are other conflicting reports about the cause of the massacre and its perpetrators. For example, there are those who are advancing the theory that the killings were a local affair, triggered by competition for land.

As the opposition Cord coalition said in its statement, this is perhaps the wrong time to find fault and point a finger. The priority should be to bring the nation together, condole with those who are hurting, and hunt for those responsible.

However, we cannot at the same time completely avert our gaze from the frequent violence that is tearing the country apart and question the government’s ability or commitment to the protection of Kenyans.

A couple of facts stand out as particularly troubling about the Mpeketoni attack. The perpetrators have neither been positively identified nor have they been apprehended. Secondly, the attack went on for hours. It has yet to be explained what security response was provided and why the attackers were able to make a clean getaway.

The attackers appear to have been well-trained and well-organised, and to know the area well. How could such an elaborate raid be planned without the National Intelligence Service and the provincial administration catching wind of it?

The government’s response was lacking in clarity and, in parts, bordered on the ridiculous. Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku is of the view that the attack was the product of political incitement. A Cabinet minister should not make such a statement without providing the proof to substantiate it.

The problem with sideshows and the creation of political bogeymen is that this distracts the government from going after the real perpetrators and taking the necessary action to improve the performance of security organs.

Reckless statements at this time, whether from the Government or the Opposition, are probably not the best way of reassuring the country and restoring security and stability.

President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto must make the country’s security a priority, not politics, not the economy. They need to have a tough discussion with their national security team, top among them Mr Lenku, Inspector-General of Police David Kimaiyo, and head of intelligence Michael Gichangi, Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo and military commander General Julius Karangi. They must obtain firm assurances that these embarrassing lapses will end immediately.

On his part, the President must ensure provision of whatever resources are needed for the security of the nation. The simple fact is that the level of insecurity in the country today is just not acceptable.

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Excerpt from President Uhuru Kenyatta's national address at State House, concerning the attacks:

"The attack in Lamu was well planned, orchestrated, and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community, with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons.

"This therefore, was not an al-Shabaab terrorist attack. Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of the heinous attacks."

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Local residents of Mpeketoni staged protests over the attacks

If you want to read more, here are two opinion pieces concerning the conflicting information on who was behind these attacks -

From the international British online newspaper, Financial Times:
Kenyatta's Political Maneuvers Play into al-Shabaab's Hands

From the op-ed page of Kenya's Daily Nation:
Mpeketoni fits into developing scenario blaming Cord for targeting the Kikuyu

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[Note: I gleaned the above information, opinions, and photos from various news sources.]

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Be sure to also read my two previous posts (from last month):
  • US Embassy town hall meeting
  • Escalating terrorism; increased crime and insecurity; horrendous traffic accidents; chaotic demonstrations and riots
You'll find them immediately below this post. Just scroll down from here.


caryjo said...

So much going on so many places. Kenya has been a battlefield a number of times in the years, filled with confliction. Uganda went through some of the same in the past. AND fighting in our country and many others. People turning away from our Lord and hitting around and about, trying to take their own control. Glad to see this bit you shared. Filled in a bit more info than just the local news/national news would cover. Thanks. [And, don't know if you remember me, but at EBC and connected to a number of your friends.]

deb said...

It's good to hear from you, Cary Jo. I do remember meeting you, I think through Sharon. Thanks for stopping by my blog and for leaving a comment!