The Somali militant group Al-Shabaab is intensifying terror strikes in East Africa to prove it remains a potent force after losing ability to fight on the battlefield, counter-terrorism experts said on Friday.
The experts, who see a lack of appropriate response mechanisms as the region’s main weakness in the war against the group, said the insurgents continue to win mostly the uninformed youth because authorities across East Africa lack the effective response strategies.
The attack at the Garissa University College on April 2, north eastern Kenya, which claimed the lives of 148 people and the Somali ministry of education attack on April 14 in which 10 were killed, have caused fear over the Al-Shabaab’s continuing reign of terror.
“I do not believe the Al-Shabaab is expanding,” said Hassan Nandwa, an Islamic Studies expert at Umma University, East Africa’ s second Islamic University.
“Al-Shabaab seems to be heading to its ultimate end. The ability to make some terrorist strikes is not evidence of expansion. This is a sign of inability to fight in the battlefield, ” Nandwa told Xinhua.
Al-Shabaab, which once controlled huge swathes of territory, continues to recruit new members inside and outside Somalia. It continues to appeal to the Somali Diaspora using its ideology of radical Islam.
Nandwa said the governments in Kenya and Somalia appear unable to respond to the Al-Shabaab’s continuing ideological warfare because the politicians lack effective leadership to win back the youth.
“The lack of religious ideology to counter radical ideas and the absence of credible leadership able to win the support of the youth amongst the Muslims in Kenya is a result of the absence of a strategy to de-radicalize the youth,” Nandwa said.
Kenyan parliament recently passed a law offering stiff penalties for the crime of radicalization in the face of new threats from radicalized youth disappearing from home to join the Al-Shabaab.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced on Monday a 10-day amnesty for the radicalized Muslim youth to surrender following the attack at the Garissa University.
The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) later called for the extension of the amnesty period to 30 days.
The government also announced a ban on roadside Muslim preachers and asked the SUPKEM to approve any sermons by Muslim preachers to limit the growing threat of radicalization.
Nandwa said clear signs show the Al-Shabaab continues to attract the most vulnerable in society, especially the youth, who yearn for a role to play in the wider global politics.
“Many of those arrested and accused of belonging to the group are the youth, who are vulnerable due to lack of knowledge and the urge to have an active role in the world.”
“Al-Shabaab is an ideology movement with an intellectual argument revolving around the concept of a state for Muslims in the world to address the problems facing the Muslims,” said Nandwa.
In Kenya, a debate on whether the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) should pull out of Somalia has been used by the opposition politicians to urge the government to focus on winning the war off the battlefield through a change of mindset amongst the Muslim youth inside Somalia.
A combined military operation under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the Kenyan and Ethiopian intervention since 2011 have consistently weakened the Al-Shabaab on the battlefield by destroying its command posts and driving the group supporters from some towns and villages.
However, the insurgents retain some level of control in some towns in south central Somalia from where it trains fighters and collects local taxes, which it uses to plan extremist guerrilla- style attacks.
The group has been perfecting its “asymmetrical warfare” by targeting enemy territory in surprise attacks. These attacks usually target soft targets with high unarmed civilian population.
They also include surprise attacks by road-side explosive devices and hostage-taking for ransom demands.
With the Al-Shabaab attacks growing in intensity and scale, the relationship between the Police, the military and the citizenry in combating the threat of extremism has been growing.
In Kenya, police blame the civilian population for shying away from sharing intelligence information.
Analysts say the police appear to have been infiltrated by the extremists and seem to rely on inaccurate intelligence, deliberately made available to them, to mislead on the particular targets of attacks.
The Garissa University attack followed just four days after various universities in Kenya circulated alerts of impending terrorist attacks within campus in Nairobi, while the target was more than 400 km away.
Nandwa said the major weaknesses in dealing with the terrorist threat appear to be majorly corruption within the police, which expose the officers to infiltration by the criminal elements.
Policemen manning unmarked border-crossing points cite lack of proper detection equipment for explosives and other bomb-making material.
“The East African countries are facing the corruption which is exposing the police to infiltration and inaccurate intelligence with the motives like revenge, business rivalry and even tribalism, ” Nandwa said.