Keep watching Al Shabaab carefully

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Kenyans have once again mourned the death of their fellow citizens following the terrorist attack perpetrated by Al Shabaab two weeks ago. Many media outlets stated that the recent assault claimed the lives of over 24 innocent civilians and close to a hundred people are unaccounted for.
Al Shabaab said that it carried out the attack in retaliation for the decision made by USA to shift its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is a laughable joke. For a terrorist group that has started targeting civilians since 2011, putting such a reason for its attack is not convincing. Available sources indicate that in 2011 and 2012, there have been at least 17 attacks involving grenades or explosive devices in Kenya. At least 48 people died in these attacks, and around 200 people were injured. Nine of these attacks occurred in North Eastern Province, including locations in Dadaab, Wajir, and Garissa. Four attacks occurred in Nairobi, and four in Mombasa. Targets included police stations and police vehicles, nightclubs and bars, churches, a religious gathering, a downtown building of small shops, and a bus station. One attack involved two simultaneous assaults on churches in Garissa on 1 July 2012. In this attack 17 people were killed and about 50 were injured. This does not include the 2013 Westgate Mall Shooting, the 2014 Mpeketoni and the 2015 Garissa attacks.Kenya has been hit by about 133 attacks since 2011 after its military force entered in to Somalia to fight against Al Shabaab. The tremor effects of the repeated attacks by Al Shabaab brought about the decline of tourism, loss of jobs, withering of foreign direct investment, closure of hotels… Apart from these economic disadvantages, the terrorist acts have also caused other political and psychological impacts (affecting relations with other developed countries…wide spread fear and paranoia among the people…).
Whatever the causes of the attack are, other countries in general and Ethiopia in particular should draw lessons from these repeated terrorist assaultsand take the necessary precautions… This piece touches on some points that can help nudge the Ethiopian government in to thinking of making preparations to fend off possible attacks of Al Shabaab.
Al Shabaab is an Islamist insurgent group based in Somalia. A study document written on the impacts ofterrorist attacks in Kenya states that Al Shabaab originated from the remnants of the Islamic Court Union (ICU) aka Al Ittihad Mahakem Al Islayiya, which used to be a union of different Islamic militant groups mushroomed in the war-torn Somalia after 1991. The ICU,which is said to govern that country underfundamentalist Islamic rule, sought to close the vacuum that had been left by the collapse of the government in 1991. However, in 2006, the neighbouring Ethiopia, which had been worried about the spillover of jihad violence, invaded Somalia and chased out ICUthat had put in place strict Sharia law. The defeat of ICU by the Ethiopian Army led to the formation of Al Shabaab that allied with Al Qaeda in 2011. Awriter by the name Brendon Cannon says that Al Shabaab is an Islamist terror group formed in Somalia in the first decade of this century. Its original leadership was affiliated with Al-Qaeda, having trained and fought in Afghanistan.
As Al Shabaab, which also means “the youth”, has been labeled a terrorist Muslim extremist group, African Union took initiatives to group member countries to fight against it. Ethiopia which is among the five Eastern African countries (gathered under UN-backed African Union mission) played pivotal roles in pushing back the terrorist group from major population centers. This very fact is believed to nudge Al Shabaab in to retaliation attacks against Ethiopia. Recently Ethiopian soldiers in Somalia were reportedly killed in an ambush.This is a good warning indicator sign that Al Shabaab can wreak havoc in Ethiopia.The incursion of Ethiopian Defence Forces in Somalia by itself can be a cause for the militant group to instigate terror in Ethiopia. A recently-read article stated that “Al Shabaab remains capable of carryingout massive attacks in Somalia and surrounding countries despite a long-running African Union offensive againstthe Islamist group”.
Poverty, youth unemployment, negligence of the minority (10% of the population)Muslim Kenyans who have allegedly been deprived of having the share of the national cake and the rampant corruption are the fertile ground, among others, for the rampant terrorism in Kenya.As per the study mentioned above,corruption is the root cause of all evils in Kenya. The reason why terrorists are able to enter in to Kenyan border is because the borders are porous and government officialsat the immigration officeallegedly accept bribes from non-Kenyans providing them with citizenship in exchange for money. Sources indicate that “members of Al Shabaab can easily buy passage and visas from officials.” The military chiefs and police officers are also corrupt. Journalists for justice rights group in Kenya exposed that the Kenyan Military Force in Somalia has been engaged in illegal business dealings with Al Shabaab to smuggle charcoal and sugar in to Kenya. Senior military personnel and civil officials allegedly received 400 million USD as bribe to open a corridor for Al Shabaab which smuggled the goods in to Kenya…In Nairobi’s Majengo District young Kenyans of Somali origin were said to be recruited for Al Shabaab. People openly contribute money for this militant group… The 680 km long porous border lied between Kenya and Somalia has also been a free passage for Al Shabaab to infiltrate in to that country. These things exposed Kenya for attacks staged by Al Shabaab.
The current situation in our country Ethiopia may lull the Islamist group to infiltrate in for its diabolical acts of terrorizing civilians. Therefore, the government should be committed to keeping careful watch over Al Shabaab. Here are some points that should be taken in to account by the government. Attention should be given to the recent commotion being witnessed in the Ethiopian Somali Region. It can undeniably be a favorable condition for the incursion of Al Shabaab. The hostile elements who are always working against the reform may take advantage of thisto draw the terrorist group inside our country.The inner party squabbles and political uncertainty can also be a fertile ground for Al Shabaab to infiltrate in to the country. Military personnel who are against the reform may fail to live up to their tasks in fending off the possible attacks ofAl Shabaab. There are also government officials who are driven by personal greed instead of national unity. They can be approached by Al Shabaab for its devilish acts…
Thus, the Ethiopian government is to ponder on the following major points. Is it giving closer attention to the porous border stretched between Ethiopia and Somalia? Is the military intelligence forcevigilantfor the possible terrorist attack of Al Shabaab? Is the military defense force in its best shape to thwart the possible attackthat can be perpetrated by such extremists? How is the current status of the anti-terrorist police force? Are they ready to be engaged in counter terrorist attacks anytime?… Close attention should also be given to local anti-peace elements who have been engaged in destructive acts that cause conflicts and unrest within the country. The concerned body should also put an eye on the defunct administration of the former president of Somali region, Abdi Illie and members of non-operational special force scattered across that part of the country. Above all, the Ethiopian national intelligence force should keep openits eyeswider and watch over things in the war-torn Somalia and other neighboring countries.
I don’t know whether it is necessary to remind the government totake security precautions in public places like hotels, churches, mosques, sport and market areas, supermarkets, embassies, transport hubs, conference and theatre halls… I am of the opinion that regular awareness raising messages need to be disseminated through media outlets (or whatever means) to the general public on how to be on high level of vigilance and report any suspicious people or activities to the police…

By Haile-Gebriel Endeshaw

The writer can be reached at gizaw.haile@yahoo.com