Friday, November 28, 2014

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Kenya Should Expect Further Attacks Like the Nairobi Explosion

As Kenyan forces encircle al-Shabaab strongholds, retaliation is likely.
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Moi Avenue, Nairobi.

On May 28, an explosion at a shopping complex on Moi Avenue, downtown Nairobi, injured over 30 people during the midday rush hour traffic. Although Police Commissioner Iteere blamed an electrical fault for the explosion, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said it was a terrorist attack. Indeed, media-reported witnesses having seen a man drop off a bag in one of the shops, whilst the Kenya Power and Lighting Company said that all fuses for the building were intact and that there was no mounted transformer in or outside the building that could have caused an explosion.

In 2012, there have been several hand grenade attacks targeting churches, bus stations, restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Nairobi and Mombasa. Such lone wolf attacks have largely been carried out by sympathisers of the Somali jihadi group al-Shabaab or Kenyan groups like the MYC and MRC. Al-Shabaab has encouraged Kenyan followers to stage such small-scale attacks, using grenades and rifles, on soft targets. Furthermore, the MYC and MRC have recently been gaining traction among Kenya’s Muslim youth, primarily from the coastal region, amid reports of police abuse and extra-judicial killings of terror suspects.

The explosion is highly likely to have been a targeted attack by a self-starter, rather than an individual who had received al-Shabaab training in Somalia. Regardless, risks of al-Shabaab attacks will increase as Kenyan forces encircle the rebel group’s strongholds in Somalia, including the southern ports of Kismayo and Merka. In retaliation, al-Shabaab will likely stage attacks in Kenyan cities using improvised explosive devices during large public gatherings. They may target participants in events such as campaign rallies and gatherings of spectators watching the June 2012 European Championships and July 2012 Olympics.

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