Policy WATCH:Mubarak's Musings
Mubarak's Musings
Who Was Responsible For The Nairobi Attack?
By MUBARAK 03/14/2012

Mubarak's Musings is a Somalia Report weekly column published every Wednesday. Follow Mubarak on Twitter, at @somalianalyst.

On Saturday, a series of grenade attacks a a downtown Nairobi bus station killed six and wounded dozens. This came months after the last grenade attacks in Nairobi, which came on the heels of the October Kenyan incursion into southern Somalia. Saturday’s attack was blamed on the Shabaab, as had been the previous one. The Shabaab have denied both attacks.

To understand who is responsible for the grenade attacks in Nairobi and whether or not the Shabaab is involved, we have to look at the Shabaab response, as well as the individuals arrested for the attacks.

When the Kenyans first invaded southern Somalia in October, there was intense lobbying from the Shabaab clerics to have the Shabaab carry out a mass-casualty terrorist attack in Nairobi. Most notable among them was Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, a senior member in the Shabaab Da’wa (“calling to Islam”—in other words, propaganda) who, at a Friday sermon in October 2011, called on the Shabaab to attack inside Kenya.

It was clear from the Sheikh’s sermon that the Shabaab had taken into account the significant financial investment Somalis had in the Kenyan economy.

“God wants to destroy Kenya. We tell the Somalis in Kenya to withdraw their investments from Kenya, because the Mujahideen will come and we shall share among ourselves the wealth of Kenya,” advised the Sheikh.

In other words, Muslim wealth in Kenya was taken into consideration when making the decision whether or not to attack Kenya.

“We were leaving them alone—why? It was being said that the Muslims there would suffer and their lives and wealth taken (by the Kenyans). But today they (the Kenyans) have violated our lives, our wealth, and our land. ...And now their land has become Halal to us. If you want wealth, buy a gun, attack the Kenyans, invade their country and take ghaneema (jihad war booty) from them. If you are killed, you are a martyr,” counselled the Sheikh.

However, the Shabaab decision makers were apparently not so emotionally-driven and seemed to make more pragmatic decisions.

In late October 2011, the Shabaab leader, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur”, said that he would not threaten Kenya but called on the “students of Nabhan and Fadil al-Komoree” to attack the country. These are foreigners who were trained in Somalia by the two deceased al-Qaeda leaders who had been guests of the Shabaab.

He went on to call on the Shabaab sympathizers in Kenya to create their own group to fight in the country.

“I tell the Kenyan Muslims to create an Islamic Jabha (Front) which fights to rule the land (of Kenya) by the Shariah,” advised Abu Mansur.

In an apparent implementation of Abu Mansur’s counsel, the Shabaab named Sheikh Ahmed Iman Ali as the Shabaab coordinator in Kenya. According to the United Nations Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) report released in mid-2011, the Sheikh, who was the chairman of the Muslim Youth Center in Nairobi until he relocated to Somalia in 2009 to join the Shabaab full-time, commands 200-500 Kenyan (both ethnic Somali and non-ethnic Somali) fighters in Somalia.

According to the SEMG report, the pro-Shabaab MYC has supporters in cites that are not majority ethnic Somali, such as Eldoret in western Kenya and in Mombasa.

Sheikh Ahmed was featured on a Shabaab video released early this year in which he called on his supporters to wage war inside Kenya. This was followed by the Shabaab stepping-up attacks in the border regions in Kenya, kidnapping civil servants in an apparent bid to divert resources from the Kenyan effort across the border in Somalia. The Shabaab accepted responsibility for those attacks.

As for the Nairobi attacks, the party responsible is likely “the students” whom Abu Mansur had called on to attack Kenya, or—less likely—other Shabaab sympathizers such as members of the Muslim Youth Center (MYC) that were once led by Sheikh Ahmed Iman. Defying the rampant Somaliphobia in Kenya, the attackers were apparently non-ethnic Somali Kenyans. The alleged perpetrator of the first wave of attacks in October, Elgiva Bwire Oliacha (alias Mohamed Seif), was a non-ethnic Somali from western Kenya. The ethnicity of the four youth arrested by Kenyan police over the Saturday grenade attacks is not clear.

It is evident from al-Shabaab’s denial of the attacks, and the fact that the attackers are clearly pro-Shabaab, that there are terror cells in Kenya that are not part of the Shabaab central body, but respond to the calls for jihad by Shabaab central. This does not seem to stop the Kenyan government from blaming the Shabaab for every terror attack in Kenya.

The Shabaab denial of the Saturday attack shed light on their position.

There was no condemnation of the blasts, as they were apparently a response to the Shabaab clerics’ and leaders’ calls for attacks against Kenya. The statement reminded the Kenyan government about al-Shabaab’s initial warnings to Kenya when the Kenyan army first entered Somalia in October.

“Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen had previously cautioned the Kenyan government and warned of ‘cataclysmic consequences’ should Kenya continue to pursue the belligerent path of invasion. The rampant insecurity that now prevails in the streets of Kenya, and the wave of public anxiety therein, conspicuously foreshadows the perilous turn of events ahead, if not portend the complete demise of the very notion of peace and stability that the Kenyan public had for many years enjoyed,” warned the statement.

Given the Shabaab’s track record of claiming the attacks that they carry out, there is nothing to suggest that the Shabaab are responsible for Saturday’s attack.

They have accepted responsibility for far bloodier attacks, such as the Kampala attack in July 2010, and more unpopular attacks such as the Mogadishu truck bombing last year that killed dozens of students.

The Shabaab have no incentive for denying responsibility—it is not like doing so will suddenly persuade the Kenyan government to withdraw its troops from Somalia.

The Shabaab may be saving a mass-casualty attack against Kenya for if and when the Kenyan Defence Forces take the port of Kismayo, the organization’s greatest remaining stronghold in southern Somalia.

If that happens, they will no doubt accept responsibility.