5 years after mall Kenya attack, Al-Shabab’s threat grows

In this Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, file photo, a security officer helps a wounded woman outside the Westgate Mall, after gunmen threw grenades and opened fire during an attack that left multiple dead and dozens wounded, in Nairobi, Kenya. (AP)
Updated 21 September 2018

5 years after mall Kenya attack, Al-Shabab’s threat grows

  • Analysts say the Somalia-based extremist group has been pushed down Africa’s east coast as far as Mozambique
  • The Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops to Somalia since 2011

NAIROBI: Five years after Al-Shabab fighters burst into a luxury shopping mall in Kenya’s capital, hurling grenades and starting a days-long siege that left 67 people dead, analysts say the Somalia-based extremist group has been pushed down Africa’s east coast as far as Mozambique as its regional threat expands.
The assault on Westgate Mall on a sunny weekend afternoon horrified the world and exposed weaknesses in Kenya’s security forces after it took them hours to respond. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta promised reforms.
Now the government of East Africa’s commercial hub is praising itself, saying security forces have effectively limited attacks to areas near the Somali border. “We learnt our mistakes and corrected them,” police Inspector General Joseph Boinnet told reporters this week, pointing out real-time intelligence sharing among security agencies.
Analysts, however, say few sustainable lessons have been learned while Al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in sub-Saharan Africa, has changed its strategy with devastating effects.
The Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops to Somalia since 2011. The group has killed hundreds of people inside Kenya, which has been targeted more than any other of the six countries providing troops to an African Union force in Somalia.
“Al-Shabab’s goal in carrying out attacks outside Somalia is to pressure authorities within the region to pull their troops out of Somalia. That aim has not been achieved and all indications are that the movement continues to plot assaults in cities across East Africa to advance its objectives,” said Murithi Mutiga, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.
A new report by the think tank says some Al-Shabab extremists previously based on the Kenyan coast have moved south into Tanzania and, in response to crackdowns there, relocated into northern Mozambique and forged ties with local fighters.
The Kenyan government’s initial response to the Westgate attack, involving blanket arrests of Muslims and indiscriminate crackdowns aimed at ethnic Somalis, inflamed communities and made matters worse, Mutiga said.
The government later changed its approach and appointed local ethnic Somalis to lead security operations in the northeast near the Somali border.
That area, however, has seen growing attacks by Al-Shabab that have killed more than 100 police officers since May 2017.
“Kenyan security officials seem to have failed to contain that threat,” Mutiga said. Other major attacks since Westgate in the region, often targeting Christians, have included massacres of bus passengers and the assault on Garissa University in 2015 that left 147 people dead.
The pressure on Al-Shabab since Westgate has included training and counterterrorism equipment provided by Western countries including the US and Britain.
The attack also changed the way Kenyan institutions are protected. Shopping malls, office buildings, university campuses, government facilities and the main airport have invested substantial sums in additional security, including surveillance.
As Al-Shabab focuses its attacks largely on Christians in Kenya’s Muslim-majority border communities, it has managed to stall economic activity and education, said Kenya-based security analyst and former US Marine Andrew Franklin. Many children who drop out of school as teaching staff flee become targets for recruitment by the extremists.
Kenyans make up the majority of Al-Shabab’s foreign fighters.
While economic activity in the borderlands weakens and corruption grows, morale and effectiveness of security forces has eroded, Franklin said.
There is a “tremendous amount of complacency” among security agencies, he said, leading to the conclusion that senior officials have little interest in countering Al-Shabab’s insurgency.
For Andrew Munya, who was injured in the Westgate attack when shrapnel hit his left shoulder, Kenya will not be safe until Al-Shabab is dealt with for good.
“There is no difference whether a life is lost in the border areas or in the city,” said Munya, who later became a security consultant while vowing to never to let his community and family become victims. “All life is precious and must be protected.”


Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

Updated 37 min 40 sec ago

Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

  • Al Jazeera journalists under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur
  • The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3

KUALA LUMPUR: Six members of staff from state-owned Qatari news broadcaster Al Jazeera were questioned by police in Malaysia on Friday.

They are under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur during the coronavirus lockdown.

“The documentary has ignited a backlash among the public,” said national police chief Abdul Hamid Bador. “During our investigation, we found out there were inaccuracies in the documentary that were aimed at creating a bad image of Malaysia.”

He said police have discussed the case with the attorney general and added: “We are going to give a fair investigation and a fair opportunity for them to defend themselves, in case the AG wants to file charges against them.”

The journalists, accompanied by their lawyers, were questioned at police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3. It highlighted the plight of undocumented migrants reportedly arrested during raids on COVID-19 lockdown hotspots. Malaysian officials said the report was inaccurate and misleading.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera said it refutes the charges and “stands by the professionalism, quality and impartiality of its journalism” and has “serious concerns about developments that have occurred in Malaysia since the broadcast of the documentary.” It added: “Al Jazeera is deeply concerned that its staff are now subject to a police investigation.”

However, the incident highlights the broadcaster’s double standards in reporting issues about migrant workers. When Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Qatar in February of failing to implement a system to ensure construction companies pay migrant workers on time, the issue was not highlighted by Al Jazeera, the headquarters of which is in Doha.

On May 23, migrant workers staged a rare protest in Qatar over unpaid wages but Al Jazeera did not send reporters to interview the demonstrators.

Also in May, HRW said that crowded and unsanitary conditions at Doha Central Prison were exacerbating the COVID-19 threat. The organization urged Qatar to reduce the size of prison populations and ensure inmates have access to adequate medical care, along with masks, sanitizer and gloves. Again Al Jazeera did not focus on the issue.

Activists and civil-society groups criticized the Malaysian government for its heavy-handed move against Al Jazeera.

“The Malaysian government should stop trying to intimidate the media when it reports something the powers that be don’t like,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division. “The reality is Malaysia has treated migrant workers very shoddily and Al Jazeera has caught them out on it.”

Nalini Elumalai, the Malaysia program officer for freedom of speech advocacy group Article 19, said the action against Al Jazeera is alarming and akin to “shooting the messenger.”

She added: “The government should instead initiate an independent inquiry into the issues raised in the documentary.”

There are at least 2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, though the true number is thought to be much higher as many are undocumented. They are a source of cheap, low-skilled labor in industries considered dirty and dangerous.