Any backlash from the recent Nairobi Westgate shopping mall attack may further polarise the Christian and Muslim populations in the region, creating fertile recruiting grounds and a more potent al-Shabab group.
Who is al-Shabab?
Formed as the militant wing of the former Somali Islamic Courts Council, al-Shabab has dominated large areas of neighbouring southern Somalia, leading a violent insurgency against the Somali government since 2006. Several senior members of the group have boasted of connections to al-Qaeda; Ibrahim al-Afghani, the co-founder of the group is an explosives expert who fought in Afghanistan whilst Ahmed Abdi Godane, the leader of al-Shabab, trained in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters have been linked to training and recruitment within al-Shabab.
The predominant interests of the al-Shabab group were indigenous but mutation is occurring driven by regional militancy. In 2010 it launched its first attack outside Somalia, conducting suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda and since Kenya’s military intervention in the country, there have been several reprisal attacks, including the kidnap and killing of tourists and aid workers.
A Persistent and Potent Threat
The al-Shabab group will continue to pose a terrorist threat to Kenya, creating a destabilising influence around the Kenyan-Somali borderlands.
One possible theory behind the Westgate shopping mall attack and siege was to undermine Kenyan support for Kenyan intervention in Somalia with secondary collateral of achieving Islamic militant goals. It will be difficult for the group to mount a second major operation, however low level incidents may be mounted from Eastleigh Area, in Mombassa or possibly, regionally.
People should to be wary of public areas, including bars, clubs and public transport hubs should also be avoided where practical as these are seen as soft targets for terrorists. The terror risk remains in the Kenyan border areas, particularly on the Somali, South Sudanese and Ethiopian borders. Therefore, all travel to this area should be avoided.
There is also a threat of retaliatory attacks by the indigenous Kenyan residents. It is expected that any such attacks would target the lower income areas of towns, in particular the area of Eastleigh in Nairobi. Caution should be exercised as advised above.