12/13/2012 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)
The Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab is killing Christians in Kenya in retaliation to Kenyan forces' intervention to stamp out its presence in southern Somalia.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said on Dec. 13 that the radical Islamist outfit has been destroyed. The announcement came after Jowhar, the regional capital of Middle Shabelle region that had been under the al-Shabaab's control since 2009, had been captured by the Somali forces backed by the African Union troops.
However, reports suggest that al-Shabaab militants have largely retreated with some reportedly relocating to the Galgala region of the northern Golis Mountains in Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region.
President Mohamud's claim might be true that al-Shabaab militants have retreated from some southern Somalia cities, but the threat is far from over and the Islamist outfit will likely remain a regional menace, especially in Kenya.
On Dec. 12, Kenyan officials said Somali militants have devised new communication gadgets to inflict terror on innocent people in northern Kenya. This means more trouble for Christians.
Attacks on Kenya's churches and Christians suddenly rose after Kenyan forces launched a major offensive on al-Shabaab-controlled city of Kismayo in Somalia in September. The militarily successful intervention was part of "Operation Linda Nchi" (Protect the Country) launched last year aimed at eradication of al-Shabaab.
On Nov. 18, at least 10 people were killed and 30 others wounded when a man threw an improvised explosive device into a minibus near a Catholic church in Kenya's national capital of Nairobi. The attack came about a fortnight after a grenade thrown into a church in Kenya's Garissa city killed its pastor and injured more than a dozen people on Nov. 4.
Most attacks on Christians in Kenya have taken place in areas with large presence of Somali immigrants, indicating that some of them could be supporters, or sympathizers, of al-Shabaab. This has led to some reprisal attacks by misled Christian youth, raising fears of sectarian tensions. It is believed that al-Shabaab's attacks seek to create a rift between Muslims and Christians in Kenya.
Kenya, a close U.S. ally, previously sought to fight al-Shabaab by supporting militias in southern Somalia. But it initiated a direct action against the terror group after its militants allegedly kidnapped foreign tourists and aid workers inside Kenya.
While on the surface the Kenyan invasion into southern Somalia appeared to be a noble mission, its dangerous ramifications for Kenya as well as the East Africa region cannot be ignored.
Kenya's intervention came despite the failure of Ethiopia, which is also a close U.S. ally, to wipe out al-Shabaab through a 2006 operation.
When Ethiopian forces, which were allegedly heavy-handed and seen by many locals as foreign occupiers, left Somalia in 2007, al-Shabaab had more local sympathy as well as more support from al-Qaeda, which sees both the United States and its allies as its enemies. Al-Shabaab was also able to gain links with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as a result of the Ethiopian intervention.
It seems Kenya didn't realize that Somalia has a large diaspora in East Africa due to the anarchy and extreme poverty in that nation. A foreign intervention - if not properly executed or with any sign of heavy-handedness - was bound to help al-Shabaab in gaining more sympathy and recruiting from among the Somali diaspora for its transnational units. We can already see this happening in Kenya.
Perhaps Kenya went ahead with its intervention in Somalia without counting the cost and preparing well for it. There are at least three reasons to think so. One, Kenyan forces launched the offensive in Kismayo during rainy season, and faced severe hardships. Two, it has accidentally attacked famine relief camps. Three, Kenyan authorities appear to be surprised by al-Shabaab's attacks inside the country, rather than being able to prevent them.
It's now time for Kenya to focus on fighting al-Shabaab within its own boundaries and preventing Islamist militants from attacking more churches and Christians.
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia: RM-AfricaAsia@persecution.org
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