The tempo, targeting and geographical extent of the terrorist threat in Kenya point to the prospect of further attacks (including abductions) in the short to medium term in spite of considerable counter-terrorism efforts by Kenya and the international community.
Two explosions killed at least 12 people and injured upwards of 100 in the Gikomba Market area of Nairobi on 16th May. This occurred concurrently with the precautionary withdrawal by a number of tour operators of their clients after a UK Foreign Office warning against all but essential travel to Mombasa.
On 3rd May, four people were killed in a grenade attack on a bus at the Mwemebe Tayari terminal in Mombasa followed by the explosion of a small IED near to the Reef Hotel on Nyali beach which caused no casualties and little damage. On the 4th May three people lost their lives as a result of explosions on two buses travelling on the Thika Highway outside Nairobi.
Police intercepted a vehicle in Changamwe, Mombasa on 17 March containing two improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It has been reported reported that the devices would have been capable of bringing down a 10-storey building. Local reports suggest that the target may have been a significant government structure such as the bridge linking Mombasa to the mainland or a major tourist congregation area.
The perpetrators of the incidents last Friday are unconfirmed. Given the relative lack of sophistication of the devices, attention is being turned towards the local group the Muslim Youth Centre (also known as al-Hijra). Believed to be responsible for the suicide car bombing at a police station in Nairobi’s Pangani area last month, they may have received support from members of al-Shabab in their efforts to create client terrorist groups among Kenyan Muslims.
According to a source at Terra Firma Risk Management, recent warnings and attacks (including the Westgate attack) bring into relief the complex relationships between al -Qa’ida, al-Shabab and other regional Islamist groups. In other words, regional powers and the West may now have a bigger problem on their hands than simply the political and, military defeat of al-Shabab.
This theory is to a significant extent borne out by Kenyan Intelligence reports covering the last three years that indicate a number of thwarted attacks being planned by others sanctioned by al-Qa’ida, (e.g. Al- Muhajirin) or as independents in similar cause.
Al- Shabab’s aggression in Kenya and the region is likely to intensify in response to certain Kenyan politicians’ calls for a withdrawal from Somalia. Attacks on locals or tourists will be fuelled by an increasing resentment of the mass arrests and the perceived targeting of Somali refugees and the Muslim population in general by the security forces. It is likely that Kenya will see a further deterioration in the security threat level before intelligence and security forces stabilise the situation.
The UK Foreign Office has extended its recommendation against all but essential travel to include Mombasa island, while the US has bolstered security at their embassy in Nairobi.
Given the sensitivity around the important Kenyan tourist industry, the FCO warning was confirmed at ministerial level. Travellers and those in the country should be aware of the high risk of further attacks in Nairobi, Mombasa, Wajir and Garissa counties, and should avoid crowded urban areas and public transport. There is also a raised risk of attacks against prominent hotels, restaurants and bars frequented by foreign nationals.