Zarqawi-Linked Groups Enter Kenya

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 11

Security authorities in Kenya are on high alert following information that members of two Islamist militant groups, al-Ittihad al-Islamiyya and al-Takfir wal-Hijra, may have already entered the country. According to a report in the Kenyan East African Standard [], both organizations are linked with Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi and are held to be responsible for last month’s attempt on the life of the Somali Prime Minister. In that incident, as reported by the Somali online news site [] a grenade exploded at the Mogadishu stadium just as Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi was about to address a rally. Although the Prime Minister escaped unhurt, due to the timely intervention of a security guard, there were seven fatalities and 28 injuries.

The timing of that incident, and the warning of infiltration into Kenya, are significant, as they come at a time when the newly formed Somalian government in exile, formed under the aegis of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and operating to date from the Kenyan capital Nairobi, is preparing to return to Somalia in a bid to accelerate the process of normalization in the country’s political life. Somalia has been without a central government for over 14 years, but the May 4 attack on Prime Minister Gedi came the day after warlords and militia commanders gave their approval to a Mogadishu Security Plan, intended to serve as a blueprint for the demobilization and disarmament of the militias [].

One of the above groups, al-Ittihad al-Islamiyya, was set up during the 1980s by a group of Muslim clerics seeking to establish an Islamic state in Somalia. The group took on an overtly militant form following the removal of President Siad Barre and the ensuing disintegration of the Somali state in 1991. It established its main base on the Somali island of Ras-Kiamboni. It is to about this time that al-Zarqawi’s links with the Horn of Africa are traced. According to sources quoted in the East African Standard, al-Zarqawi established a foothold at Lamu in Kenya and on Ras Kiamboni in 1996. This was two years before the high profile twin attacks on American embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, for which al-Zarqawi is considered by Kenyan intelligence as the chief planner and financier [].

The prevention of the establishment of a central, recognized government is a crucial strategy for Islamist insurgent groups who are better able to operate in conditions of a failed state. If Somalia at one point looked set to provide this, the opportunity is now fading, since more than 100 members of the 275-strong Somali parliament are already in Mogadishu in a bid to stabilize the city, and are conducting talks with faction leaders towards re-stationing their respective militias away from the city. The concern among Kenyan security authorities is that the two suspect groups, having failed in their attempt at Mogadishu, are seeking to carry out unfinished business in Kenya and prolong Somalia’s disarray. Given the evidence, according to Kenyan intelligence, that al-Zarqawi had terror cells operating in Kenya, authorities will be concerned as to whether these cells are re-activating.