Tribal Violence, Crime, Or Terror? Coast Attacks Confuse Kenyan Police

sega barA late night robbery and shooting at Sega bar in Mombasa on Tuesday has sparked new questions about whether armed tribalists, criminals, or “terrorists” are responsible for violence on Kenya’s coast.

Witnesses and police accounts said their description of the gunmen matched the same assailants behind the Sunday attack in the Likoni area of Mombasa.

One of the attackers [who] was tall and wearing a black jungle jacket is believed to be the ring leader and was speaking fluent Kiswahili. After the shooting the four, walked  confidently  and vanished into Majengo estate, said a frequent raveller at the pub.

Police sources said the attack is suspected to have been carried out by the same assailants who killed four people and injured six others in Soweto area  (Likoni) in Mombasa.

Notably, the attackers at Sega bar expressed purely financial motivations in asking for the day’s sales and did not discriminate based on religious affiliation as has been the case in several al-Shabaab attacks in Kenya in recent months.

This raises the possibility that the gunmen could have been violent criminals who were perhaps betting police would link the incident to terror rather than considering other leads.

This should not to rule out the possibility that cells linked to al-Shabaab or its Kenyan affiliated al-Hijra were responsible in an operation that would top up their bank account, but the nature of the incident stands out against its other attacks.

Equally important, the Likoni attack appeared to be committed by attackers who were acting in retaliation for al-Shabaab operations targeting “land grabbing” Christians–and especially (President Uhuru’s) Kikuyu tribe communities–on Kenya’s coast. Witnesses to the al-Shabaab attacks claimed the assailants comprised of both locals and foreigners speaking English, Kiswahili, Somali, and Arabic.

Moving back to the Likoni attack, gunmen distributed leaflets threatening Luo tribe members and shot at least four people dead before scampering away.

The leaflet read:

this is revenge for our brothers killed in Mpeketoni and you luos won’t stay in peace and you [Raila Odinga] if you have anything to do just do we aren’t fearing you at all [sic]

Recent anti-Luo leaflet in Likoni

Recent anti-Luo leaflet in Likoni

While al-Shabaab has claimed several attacks on the coast recently, its military spokesperson Abu Muscab denied involvement in the Likoni incident but welcomed any tribal-based violence that would cause more headaches for the Kenyan government.

Crime or Terror?

The police’s effort to blame attacks that could be either tribally or criminally-motivated acts on al-Shabaab-linked terrorists obscures the real threats that the former types of violence pose to Kenya–where the memory of tribal post-electoral violence from 2007-08 is still heavy on people’s minds.

Recent police figures highlighted how violent crime–committed with impunity–was much more rampant than acts of terrorism in Kenya.

The latest police figures on homicide show that there were 2,784 cases last year. Murder topped the list with 1,721 incidents, followed by infanticide (60) and manslaughter (53).

The official statistics present a sad reality because a huge number of the murder cases filed in court never resulted in convictions, suggesting that the offenders often walked scot free.

As a result, it will be important for security investigations in Kenya not to rush to judgment about who is responsible–especially if political and tribal tensions are on the rise.

Uhuru’s suggestion that “local political networks” were responsible for the Mpeketoni attacks led to the dubious arrest of Lamu governor Issa Timamy, and police have been granted an extra month to collect evidence in a case where such proof so far remains absent.

Jumping to conclusions on the nature of the perpetrators and wasting precious state resources and time in criminal/terror investigations will only hamper Kenya’s ability to catch those propagating insecurity in the country.

It also masks the risk that tribal and criminal violence could rise in the shadows of ongoing terror operations.



Categories: al-Shabaab, Kenya

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