Islamist Rivalries Seen Fueling Attacks in Eastern Africa

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Competition between al-Qaeda and Islamic State for a foothold in East Africa will fuel attacks in the region by the Islamist militants, Control Risks Group Ltd said.

Islamic State is trying to make inroads into Somalia, where the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group has been waging an insurgency for the past decade, as well as other East African countries, Paul Gabriel, a senior analyst with the London-based risk consultancy, told reporters Wednesday in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

“Competition between the two will be a major driver of terrorism,” Gabriel said. “There is a likelihood of al-Shabaab regaining capabilities again in 2016” after the number of attacks in the region declined last year, he said.

Kenya’s army invaded southern Somalia in 2011 after blaming the militants for attacks on tourists and non-governmental workers. It’s part of an African Union-led force in the Horn of Africa nation known as Amisom that also includes troops from Uganda, Ethiopia and Burundi.

Al-Shabaab will probably continue taking advantage of Amisom’s lack of capacity as global attention and resources for fighting terrorism are mainly directed to Syria and West Africa, Gabriel said. In January, the militants stormed a base in southern Somalia, killing Kenyan soldiers.

Other Challenges

“We don’t see much progress in Somalia,” Gabriel said. Amisom has been “calling out for more air support, forces, hardware, but getting additional resources would be difficult because of challenges elsewhere.”

Al-Shabaab is battling “defections” to Islamic State, which is establishing a foothold in southern Somalia, and to remain relevant it will opt for “more high profile and headline-grabbing attacks to strengthen profile,” such as a recent attempt to blow up a Daallo Airlines jet, Gabriel said.

Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for some attacks in Kenya since 2012, including an assault on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in which at least 67 people died and a raid on a northeastern university last year that killed 147. It also carried out bombings of bars in the Ugandan capital in 2010 that left 78 people dead.

A dispute between members of the group in second half of 2015 over their allegiance to al-Qaeda or Islamic State probably contributed to Kenya seeing its lowest number of attacks in three years in 2015, according to Emma Gordon, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft.

Amisom said Wednesday it had information al-Shabaab fighters plan to disguise themselves in uniforms used by the mission and stage “atrocities” in areas that it and the Somali government control. Such attacks would be “in order to turn the people against Amisom by depicting it as the enemy,” the African Union operation said on its Twitter account.

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