Last Monday, 13 January 2020, three male teachers were killed in a suspected Al-Shabaab attack on the Kamuthe primary school in Garissa County, as announced by the National Kenya Police Service. The incident, which occurred at 2 a.m. local time, saw the gunmen attack the Kamuthe Resource Centre where female teachers and nurses were reportedly spared, according to Kenya’s Citizen TV. A stray bullet, however, had wounded a child in the midst of the attack. Local authorities added that the assailants had attacked a police post and damaged a Safaricom communication mast. This comes after the deaths of four children who sought refuge at a nearby police post in Saretho village, Dadaab, who were shot by Al-Shabaab militants, just last week.
Currently, “a combined security multi-agency team is combing the area in pursuit of the attackers,” as announced by Inspector-General of Police, Hilary Mutyambai. In particular, Kenyan security agencies are in search of an Al-Shabaab ringleader, Maulid Bilal, whom they suggest is responsible for coordinating most of the “attacks in Fafi and Hulugho regions in Garissa,” where Al-Shabaab militants have increased attacks as of late. Bilal, who is a Kenyan Ogaden and a Madrassa teacher from the Hulugho sub-county prior to joining Al-Shabaab, is further noted for having recruited some of his students and Ogaden clansmen into the Al-Shabaab group.
The Kenyan police forces have heightened security throughout the country with several agencies operating at an “unprecedented state of alert,” according to ChinaDaily. Due to this, security officers were able to recover “two improvised explosive devices and two AK47 rifles from the scene of the attack” in Dadaab, accounted police spokesman, Charles Owino. In addition, Owino disclosed that the police had killed two of the attackers, and secured members of the public in Saretho village. In spite of this, four were killed, with some of the militants having escaped by crossing the porous border from Somalia. Although a police report revealed that they were in “hot pursuit of the wounded militants and their collaborators,” this may prove difficult as a number of accomplices are “family members of the operatives and are said to be harbouring and assisting them to carry out the attacks.”
Al-Shabaab is an Al-Qaeda-affiliated Somali group whose total size is unclear. The group, deemed a foreign terrorist organisation by the United States in March 2008, first targeted Kenya upon a cross-border incursion ordered by the Kenyan government after attacks on tourist destinations in northern Kenya were blamed on Al-Shabaab in 2011. Since then, it has carried out numerous onslaughts in public places, including the brutal attack of a Kenyan university campus where 147 people were killed, the bombing of the Dusit D2 hotel complex in Nairobi which left 21 people dead, and five suspected attacks in this month alone. These devastating incidents, however, have not been limited to Kenya as the militant group has waged an insurgency in Somalia since 2008, exacerbating the 2011 famines in Bakool and Lower Shabelle by preventing aid agencies from providing food, alongside recent gunfights.
The group have not only threatened and ravaged local peacekeeping efforts in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda, but they have targeted international aid workers, journalists, and civilian leaders. This has become an international concern both for the complete violation of human rights, as seen in Lamu where three U.S. personnel were killed on 5 January 2020, and the recruitment of Al-Shabaab members overseas. As discussed by CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, Al-Shabaab has succeeded in recruiting many young Somali men living in the West, particularly in the U.S. and Britain. As said by Army Maj. Gen. William Gayler, Director of Operations for the United States African Command (AFRICOM), “Al-Shabaab presents a threat to America, the African people, and our international partners,” with the attack of U.S. personnel prompting the U.S. to bolster its presence in Kenya, conducting an airstrike this past Thursday, killing “two terrorists,” according to officials with AFRICOM.
Although both local and international authorities have increased security and military efforts in the area, with the U.S. supporting U.N.-backed African forces, it is imperative that the safety of civilians is prioritised. Though the airstrike conducted last Thursday saw no civilians injured or killed, the risk of harm to citizens should be mitigated. This comes at a time where the U.S., alongside other western countries, are discussing the reduction of military efforts against African extremist organisations. Additionally, civilians should be assured that those who committed crimes against them will be held accountable. It is thus imperative that these countries find the least hostile solutions against these extremist groups, that not only prevent the compromise of innocent lives but allow for the perpetrators of such crimes to be brought to justice.
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