pursuits

Kenya Changes Security Leadership After Northern Militia Attacks

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta replaced two of his top security chiefs after Islamist militants killed at least 64 people in the north of the country in the past two weeks in attacks that targeted non-Muslims.

Kenyatta nominated Joseph Ole Nkaissery, a lawmaker for the opposition Orange Democratic Movement, to succeed Interior Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku, he told reporters yesterday at State House in the capital, Nairobi. He said he also accepted the retirement of Inspector-General of Police David Kimaiyo.

Al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked insurgent group based in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the killing yesterday of at least 36 people at a quarry in Mandera in northeastern Kenya, beheading two of them and sparing only Muslims. The massacre was near the site where al-Shabaab on Nov. 22 stopped a bus and ordered non-Muslims to lie face down before shooting 28 people dead. The group said the attacks are revenge for Kenya deploying troops in Somalia in 2011 to back the government.

“The obvious intent is to create hostility and suspicion across ethnic and religious lines and to drive non-Muslims from certain parts of this country,” Kenyatta said. “The ultimate aim of this atrocious campaign is to establish an extremist caliphate in this region.”

Kenyatta has faced growing criticism from opposition politicians and the public about his handling of the security situation in Kenya since al-Shabaab attackers raided the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi last year. At least 67 people died in that attack, in which the gunmen also singled out non-Muslims.

Right Direction

The change in security leadership “certainly is in the right direction,” Mutuma Ruteere, director of the Nairobi-based Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies, said yesterday by phone. “The president has read the mood of the country, however it was absolutely long overdue.”

Grenade attacks and raids by al-Shabaab have become more frequent in the north and coastal regions since Kenya’s incursion into Somalia began three years ago, prompting the U.K. and other foreign governments to advise their nationals against travel to parts of the country. The shilling has come under pressure from a drop in tourism revenue, falling about 4.5 percent against the dollar since the start of the year.

Al-Shabaab has been in retreat in Somalia since being forced to withdraw from the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011. Somali forces, backed by African Union peacekeepers, have regained control of about 70 percent of southern and central Somalia from the militia, according to the country’s president.

Existential Threat

The political opposition, led by Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga, has described insecurity in places such as Mandera as an “existential threat” to the nation and demanded creation of an exit strategy for Kenyan soldiers from Somalia.

Kenyatta has remained defiant, and insisted the military will stay in Somalia as long as it takes to end the threat posed by al-Shabaab. In a show of force after the attack on the bus last month, Deputy President William Ruto said fighter jets killed more than 100 al-Shabaab militants at camps in Somalia.

On Sept. 1, a U.S. missile strike killed the militant group’s leader Ahmed Abdi Godane. The militia is now headed by Ahmed Omar, who’s also known as Abu-Ubeydah.

Yesterday’s attack in Mandera was revenge for “recent air strikes on Muslims in Somalia which cause the death of innocent Muslims and the destruction of their properties and livestock, as well as the continued suffering of Muslims in Mombasa,” al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said.

Police in Kenya’s port city of Mombasa raided at least four mosques last month to try and break up militant Islamist networks. Muslims account for 11 percent of the country’s 45 million people, mostly living along the coast and in the north.

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