Tag Archives: Terrorism

Tracking Kenya’s terrorism threat

Although the terrorist attack against Nairobi’s Westgate shopping complex in September 2013 fixed the attention of both the international community and international media on the threat of Islamist extremism and associated terrorist activity in Kenya, the threat was neither novel nor fully transnational. Through tracking the frequency and distribution of terrorist attacks, as well as both planned and foiled attacks in the country since 2011, the dynamics of Kenya’s terrorism threat, specifically that of the Somali-based Islamist sect al-Shabaab as well as an emerging domestic threat, are clearly apparent.

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To view an interactive version of this map, please click here. Please note that the map in the link may in due course be amended, updated or deleted.

Becoming a concrete target

Following a series of kidnappings targeting foreign aid workers and tourists in the north of the country, the Kenya Defence Force (KDF) launched ‘Operation Linda Nchi’ in Somalia in October 2011. The operation was mandated to eliminate al-Shabaab strongholds within Somalia in an effort to increase security along the countries’ shared border. Despite operating in conjunction with forces loyal to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia and subsequently the Federal Government of Somalia, which replaced the TFG in August 2012, Operation Linda Nchi was an independent intervention on the part of Kenya to address the protracted insecurity and high spillover potential in Somalia. Although there had been sporadic attacks linked to al-Shabaab operatives along Kenya’s border areas prior to the operation, specifically in the vicinity of the Dadaab refugee camp complex, the operation flagged Kenya as a direct enemy of al-Shabaab, leading to the group publically threatening to conduct reprisal attacks on Kenyan soil. From October 2011 into 2012, Kenya experienced an uptick in low-level attacks, including grenade attacks and improvised explosive device (IED) blasts along border areas, including in districts such as Mandera, Garissa and Wajir, as well as sporadic low-level incidents in Nairobi.

These attacks were predominantly directed at four target types, namely:

  • Security interests
  • Religious sites
  • Entertainment establishments
  • Crowed public venues

A Dynamic Threat: External and internal happenings

In the interim, KDF, Somalia and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces continued to advance on al-Shabaab strongholds in Somalia. In September 2012, the group withdrew from its last major stronghold in Kismayo, having been driven from Mogadishu in 2011. Rather than spelling defeat for the group, al-Shabaab quickly adapted, adopting increasingly guerrilla tactics within Somalia; this coincided with an increase in terrorist-style attacks within Kenya’s border areas. Although these attacks in Kenya were frequently attributed to Somali-based militants linked to al-Shabaab, it became increasingly apparent that the group had not only established and consolidated an operational presence in Kenya, but had developed a growing sympathiser community in the country.

However, in a related trend, disenfranchised youth among the country’s Muslim population were proving increasingly susceptible to religious fundamentalism. Most noteworthy was the formation of the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC) and subsequent emergence of the al-Hijra cell. The MYC was initially an informal advocacy group focused on voicing the socio-economic grievances of Muslim communities, particularly those of unemployed youth, and establishing branches in Nairobi, Mombasa and Garissa. The group’s ideology was heavily influenced by Sheikh Aboud Rogo, an open al-Shabaab sympathiser. Soon the group publically declared its allegiance to al-Shabaab; however, its overall rhetoric maintained an internal focus on perceived infidels within Kenya.Although Kenyan security authorities have yet to explicitly link the MYC to attacks in the country, the group continues to allude to its involvement in a number of incidents, having released a statement inciting jihad in December 2012.

Looking Beyond Westgate

Throughout 2013, low-level and crude attacks continued; however, it was in September 2013 that al-Shabaab exhibited its capacity to conduct a coordinated and sophisticated assault in Kenya. The four-day siege of the Westgate shopping complex in Nairobi, which resulted in the deaths of 67 people, re-established al-Shabaab’s position on the global terrorism map, since the group previously demonstrated its capacity to conduct transnational attacks in the 2010 Kampala, Uganda bombings. Yet, while the attack solidified the connection between terrorism in Kenya and al-Shabaab, the group has since only claimed responsibility for a further two assaults in the country; these include the recent grenade attack targeting a Chania Travellers bus at the Coast Bus Terminus, located on Mwembe Tayari Road, central Mombasa on 3 May and the grenade attack targeting the Tandoori bar in Diani Beach in January. In the period following the Westgate attack, there have been more than ten confirmed terrorism attacks and several more foiled and planned incidents, all of which remain unclaimed.

With a return to low-level assaults and al-Shabaab only publically claiming two attacks despite having explicitly established its campaign against Kenya in the Westgate incident, extreme consideration with regard to the domestic threat is warranted. Of particular concern is the rise of low-level attacks in Nairobi’s Eastleigh suburb, seen in 2012 and subsequently in 2014. These have been often linked to al-Shabaab’s operational presence; the suburb hosts a predominantly Somali community and local security authorities connected the attacks to al-Shabaab-aligned operatives therein. That being said, al-Shabaab has never formally claimed responsibility for assaults in Eastleigh; moreover, it seems unlikely that the group would target a community which hosts a potentially lucrative source of diaspora revenue. While the group’s involvement cannot be entirely discounted at this point, contrary intelligence suggests that these attacks were a consequence of other dynamics fuelling terrorist activity in Eastleigh, including growing communal tensions between Kenyan and Somali residents, poor relations between small-scale Kenyan businesspeople and their Somali counterparts, or emerging turf wars between rival matatu (minibus) drivers.

Such community-based tensions are becoming more relevant amid accusations of growing prejudice against Somali populations within Kenya’s security authorities. This is particularly relevant in light of the recent large-scale security operation, ‘Operation Usalama Watch’, launched in Nairobi and Mombasa and aimed at identifying al-Shabaab operatives and sympathisers within the country. The operation commenced on 25 March with a refugee relocation programme stipulating that all refugees of Somali nationality residing in the country’s urban centres should return to Kenya’s two main refugee camps, specifically, the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. Since then, security forces have conducted several security sweeps in the cities in an effort to identify individuals aligned with al-Shabaab and other Islamist extremist groups known to operate in the country. The sweeps have been met with much controversy and allegations of police brutality, specifically relating to the detention of some 3000 Somali nationals in the Moi International Sports Centre in Nairobi. The operations and ensuing allegations have increased tensions; these are assessed as having the potential to motivate reprisal attacks.

It cannot be denied that al-Shabaab remains a prominent threat to Kenya. Moreover, with Kenyan authorities reiterating the KDF commitment to operations in Somalia, the threat is unlikely to be nullified in the near-term. However, with growing tensions between Somali and Kenyan communities coinciding with more aggressive rhetoric by domestic Islamist extremist groups, taking place in a context of asserted prejudice within the security apparatus, Kenya may be increasingly vulnerable to a home-grown terrorism threat.


 

Article by Gabrielle Reid, follow her @Reid_on_Africa

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Boko Haram: A domestic or regional threat?

Boko+Haram+file+photo

There are concerns that the Boko Haram, which has generally been regarded as a domestic terrorist group, is on the verge of adopting a transnational agenda. In doing so, Boko Haram would pose a significant threat in an African region already afflicted by a myriad of challenges; these include political instability, ethnic conflicts and Islamist extremism.

For the full free analysis, click here

Analysis by Ryan Cummings, follow him @Pol_Sec_Analyst

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Could CAR become the next Somalia?

CAR

Jihadist intervention in the CAR crisis: Could it happen?

In September 2013, French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, warned that ensuing lawlessness within the Central African Republic (CAR) could see the country become the next Somalia; i.e. a failed state, which could serve as a safe haven for both regional and transnational terrorist groups. Less than two months later, Fabius’ concerns were reiterated by Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations, Edmund Mulet, who claimed that al-Qaeda-aligned militants were on the verge of exploiting growing instability within the CAR to their advantage. However, in contrast to Fabius, Mulet likened the prevailing situation within the CAR to that of northern Mali, where a power vacuum resulting from a military coup had seen the region fall under the control of Islamist extremists. Initially dismissed as mere rhetoric aimed at generating greater international attention to the CAR crisis, Fabius and Mulet’s claims recently gained credence following a statement released by Nigerian-based Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram. In a video message posted online on 14 February, Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, purportedly threatened to avenge what he coined the massacre of Muslim communities in the CAR by Christian militias collectively known as anti-balaka.

Although somewhat unexpected, Boko Haram’s threat to enter the CAR conflict is not all that surprising. Since Seleka rebels toppled the government of Francois Bozize in March 2013, the CAR has experienced widespread and sustained outbreaks of ethno-religious violence, which has seemingly pitted the country’s Muslim and Christian populace against each other. The CAR’s minority Islamic population has been particularly hard hit by the violence, with human rights advocacy group, Amnesty International, recently asserting that the ethnic cleansing of Muslims were occurring within the country. Conforming to the Salafi jihadism interpretation of Islam, extremist groups such as Boko Haram would likely consider it their religious duty to avenge the persecution of Muslims by members of another religion. Such reasoning was perhaps best exemplified during the Bosnian civil war where hundreds of foreign Muslim jihadists fought alongside their Bosniak counterparts against a predominantly orthodox Christian Serbian army. Within the African context, coordinated jihadist intervention was also recently witnessed in northern Mali where various Islamist militant groups, including Boko Haram, allegedly engaged in joint combat operations against Malian, Chadian and French forces. Although the avenging of Muslim persecution was not central to this co-operation, the Malian conflict nevertheless underlined that regional Islamist extremist groups possessed both the intent and operational capacity to coordinate combat operations on foreign soil.

With both motivations and statements of intent for Islamist extremist involvement within the CAR made explicit, what is the actual threat of such a development occurring? Any such undertaking will be subject to significant logistical challenges. In terms of its geographical location, the CAR is far less accessible to Islamist militants than Mali. In terms of the latter, Islamist militants had near-unrestricted access to the region from their operational strongholds in neighbouring Algeria and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Niger and Mauritania. Moreover, long-established and clandestine smuggling routes located across much of Mali’s desert north also provided militants with a constant supply of arms and other resources. As mentioned, access routes for both supplies and personnel deployment is not as readily available for Islamist extremist groups seeking to infiltrate the CAR. There have been claims that Sudan’s Darfur region, which shares a common border with the CAR’s northern Vakanga province, could be used as a platform for Islamist extremist groups to deploy both personnel and arms into the country. However, such assertions have largely been based on spurious claims of an existing jihadist presence within Darfur, in addition to simplifying the motivations of Sudanese militias involved in the Darfur conflict. Another suggestion is that Nigerian Islamist militants, such as Boko Haram and its alleged offshoot, Ansaru, could infiltrate the CAR from neighbouring Cameroon. Although there is significant evidence to suggest that the aforementioned groups possess an operational presence within Cameroon, their operations to date have been limited to areas along the Nigerian border, specifically within the country’s Far-North province. These areas are located several hundred kilometers away from the Cameroon-CAR border, which itself has been fortified by the Cameroonian military amid an influx of CAR refugee populations.

Apart from logistical problems, jihadist infiltration within the CAR will also likely be subject to several operational challenges. The majority of Islamist militant groups operating within Africa have done so within the semi-arid Sahel and Maghreb regions of the continent. Their familiarity with often harsh and inhospitable desert conditions have given them the edge over regional and/or international forces tasked with uprooting them from such areas. However, the desert plains of North and West Africa differ considerably to the jungle and savannah which comprise much of the CAR. Islamist militants’ unfamiliarity with such conditions may not only see them lose an important tactical advantage but could place them firmly on the back foot against local militias accustomed to such environments. Further to this, an Islamist infiltration within the CAR will occur in the absence of any significant on-the-ground support. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the majority of the CAR’s Muslim population has fled to neighboring Chad and Cameroon. Those left behind have found refuge in ad hoc refugee camps dotted across the country. As such, local intelligence networks, upon which militant groups rely on, would be minimal to non-existent within the CAR. Although the possibility exists that Seleka rebels could assist jihadist fighters in their operations, such co-operation is by no means guaranteed. It is true that Seleka is mainly comprised of Muslim fighters, primarily emanating from Chad and Sudan; however, the group was never motivated or united by religion. Instead, the majority of rebel combatants coalesced under the motley Seleka rebel coalition due to individual motivations, which ranged from grievances against the Bozize regime to the mere economic reward of pillaging civilian populations. With the majority of such motivations already fulfilled, there is little evidence to suggest that Seleka’s assistance to jihadists groups is assured or even likely.

At first glance, the CAR appears to have all the conditions desirable for Islamist infiltration. The collapse of security and governance structures in the vast and sparsely populated country could serve as the ideal environment for Islamist extremists to hide or even establish an operational presence. In addition, jihadist groups would likely consider it their religious duty to avenge the hundreds of CAR Muslims killed by their Christian counterparts. However, on closer inspection, it becomes apparent that sustaining any armed campaign within the CAR will be subject to significant, if not insurmountable, challenges. Nonetheless, threats issued by Islamist groups such as Boko Haram should not be dismissed. Instead, they should serve to exemplify just how far the CAR conflict has spiraled out of control and how urgent the need is to find a lasting solution to the crisis. With international and regional troops already struggling to contain disorganised bands of machete-wielding militias, the risk of highly-trained and conflict-hardened terrorist groups gaining a foothold in CAR is one that simply cannot be taken.

Article by Ryan Cummings, follow him @Pol_Sec_Analyst

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Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Security Package

Sochi 2014

Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Security Package

red24 is offering strategic security advice, analysis and support in our Sochi Winter Olympics Package.

red24’s Sochi Package has been designed to provide travellers with initial advice, security updates and emergency support. The package is available for both the duration of the 2014 Winter Olympics (7 to 23 February 2014) and Paralympics (7 to 16 March 2014).

Why you should be cautious at Sochi

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One year after the In Amenas hostage situation – Lessons learned

In Amenas incident

 

In the early hours of 16 January 2013, 32 terrorists attacked two busses transporting foreign workers from the Tigantourine oil and gas plant, near In Amenas, before entering the compound itself and taking approximately 800 local and foreign workers hostage. Three days later, after Algerian military operations and prolonged conflict, the hostage situation ended. The incident concluded with the death of 40 hostages and 29 militants.

The Motive

The Signed-In-Blood Battalion, led by notorious Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar and with connections to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed to have conducted the attack in retaliation to the French military intervention in northern Mali earlier in the year. However, the multinational presence at the site also suggests that larger grievances may have motivated the attack, such as resentment against foreign nationals and western intervention in the region. Indeed, Algerian authorities rejected any notion of a connection to Mali, claiming that the attack had been planned more than two months ahead of the incident, while French intervention in Mali began only one week before the attack. The attackers’ demands included the release of dozens of Islamists held in Algerian prisons. The group comprised nationals from Canada, Mauritania, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, Niger and Algeria.

The Response

The Algerian government took a firm stance against the perpetrators, issuing statements which vehemently denounced the organisation, their aims and the methods being employed. The heavy-handed response to the attack, which was viewed by some as an over-zealous and disproportionate reaction, partly aimed to demonstrate the commitment of the Algerian government to fight such acts of violence and lawlessness. Air strikes and ground forces were used to attack the compound. While presenting a zero-tolerance attitude towards such attacks, this response also contributed to the body count of both militants and civilians.

In Hindsight

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, questions were raised over how the attack could have been prevented. A comprehensive investigation was undertaken by the host companies, including Statoil and BP, into the security protocols of the facility, as well as the responsibilities and actions of both the companies and the government.

The armed response, which aimed to rescue hostages and end the incident, was conducted quickly, fiercely and without full discussions with the national governments of some of the hostages. Therefore, although it was well intended and boded well for proving Algeria’s rejection to terrorist organisations and their goals, the lack of effective or complete communications caused significant concern and will need to be addressed, should such an incident occur again.

On a corporate level, security measures have been reinforced as a result of the attack, with organisations involved in the oil and gas industry being reminded of the critical role of crisis management and mitigation within their organisations. The practice of examining the lessons learned, evaluating corporate and personal security policies, and the necessity of intelligence and risk awareness will be vehemently endorsed.

Looking ahead

Both BP and Statoil have reached an agreement with Algerian authorities that will allow them to resume operations within the country. This will come with a demand for greatly improved security facilities, including intelligence and analysis resources, which Statoil admitted were lacking prior to the In Amenas attack. However, the Algerian government will also be expected to collaborate more with foreign governments in the event of such an attack occurring. In addition, it will be expected to create closer ties with its neighbours, in order to share information relating to militant Islamist extremist groups and other threats to businesses in the region.

The relative stability which has returned to Algeria will, no doubt, ensure that extractive industries maintain a presence in the country and in the region as a whole. However, the anniversary of the attack serves as a pertinent reminder to those operating in such environments that appropriate security measures and risk mitigation are essential.

Article by Frances Nobes – Follow her on Twitter @FrancesNobes

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red24 Security Briefing – Islamist militancy in Yemen

Chief MENA analyst at red24, Andre Colling, has written a Security Briefing on the Islamist insurgency in Yemen.

Here is an excerpt from the briefing document:

‘Given current political, economic and social conditions in Yemen, AQAP will continue to find unstable areas within which to conduct its operations against the state. Only a full negotiated settlement between Yemen’s differing warring or competing regional and political groups will offer the state adequate time and space to confront the Islamists in a meaningful manner. Even if a political solution was found it would still take years for the government to fully eradicate the militant threat given the increasing interconnectivity between militants and local tribes. AQAP is, therefore, expected to continue to grow and increase its presence in the state.”

Read the full article for free here.

Follow @andrecolling for more analysis on MENA security issues.

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red24 2014 Threat Forecast coming soon

WATCH THIS SPACE 

Our analysts are currently working their magic on the 2014 red24 Global Threat Forecast.

To join the discussion, visit our Facebook page or our Linked in Discussion group, London Risk Professionals Group or chat with the guy in charge, Andre Colling via Twitter @AndreColling.

Also check out last year’s 2013 Forecast here.

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Gabrielle Reid’s interview with BBC on 2013 Kenya Mall Siege

Gabrielle Reid is one of red24’s Africa analysts based in Cape Town. She talked with the BBC on 24 September following the conclusion of a four-day siege by armed militants at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. The attack, which involved an unknown number of assailants armed with automatic weapons and explosives, has since been claimed by al-Shabaab. Follow Gabrielle @Reid_on_Africa

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