Posts by Mubarak

02/08/2012
Somalia Report welcomes its first weekly columnist, "Mubarak," whose musings will be featured every Wednesday. You can follow Mubarak on Twitter, at @somalianalyst.

Ever since the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyib Erdogan, visited Mogadishu in August 2011, Turkey has stepped up involvement in Somalia, even to the point of turning the reconstruction of Mogadishu into a national mission. The Turkish presence is ubiquitous in Mogadishu, with many refugee camps run by the Turks, and at least one school.

Turkish assistance is widely appreciated in Mogadishu, but there has been increasing opposition from pro-al-Shabaab clerics in mosques outside the city. Islamic lectures have been held by such clerics since late last year, denouncing the Turks as secular agents working in the interests of the West. Some have even gone further and claimed that the intention of Turkish assistance is to turn Somalis from Islam by making Somalia into a secular state, like Turkey itself. Secularism is considered Kufr (disbelief in Allah) by most Islamists in Somalia—interestingly, including most, if not all, of the various Islamist factions within the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

Such is the Islamists’ animosity towards the Turks that when a Shabaab truck bombing in October 2011 killed dozens of students recently awarded Turkish scholarships, Shabaab officials justified the group’s actions by claiming that the students were to be given intelligence training in Turkey.

The Shabaab argument has swayed many residing in their areas of control, and also among their online followers. Pro-Shabaab websites reported in December 2011 that other students who had been taken to Turkey had started receiving military training. The same news story also claimed that the female students had been banned from wearing the jilbab (a garment covering the head almost to the knee), but could only put on a headscarf.

The truth is, many Somali girls stop wearing the jilbab when they go abroad, while others do not stop—a fact that becomes irrelevant when the intent is to discredit the Turks in the eyes of Somalis.

This weekend, 400 Somali students were flown to Turkey for religious education by The Directorate of Religious Affairs and the Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation (TDV). According to Today’s Zaman, a Turkish newspaper, the deputy director of the TDV lauded the project “one of Turkey’s most important initiatives for the Somali people."

In response, one Shabaab cleric, Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, lashed out on Al-Andalus—al-Shabaab’s official radio station—accusing the Turks of harboring neo-colonialist intentions. He went on to claim that the Turkish food aid was expired anyway.

Online, Somalis had mixed reactions to the Sheikh’s statement, but many of those agreeing with him had not expressed themselves as pro-Shabaab in their other forum posts. One wonders whether the increased Shabaab rhetoric against Turkish aid is a prelude to a ban or even—God forbid—a direct attack on the Turkish aid contingent.

The Shabaab have ideological reasons for opposing the Turkish scholarship process, namely their enmity towards secularism, which they suspect will be planted in the hearts of the students taken to Turkey. Furthermore, the Shabaab view Turkish Islam as a watered-down version of Sunni Islam, and are therefore opposed to students being placed under its influence.

Besides the Shabaab, the scholarship process has been under increasing criticism in recent days from students and the media. In spite of the claim by some Turkish officials that the students are picked based on how well they do in their scholarship interviews, in reality the students have been selected according the 4.5 tribal formula, the same system used to apportion Somali members of parliament (for every placement allocated to each of Somalia’s four major clans, half a placement is allocated to all minority clans combined). This formula is widely unpopular, and some MPs have also called for its cancellation.

The 4.5 formula may have been convenient in handing out parliamentary seats, but it is totally unfair to use it to determine who gets scholarships, which should be awarded on merit and not for the sake of political correctness.

Yet the discourse concerning the Turkish scholarship program, especially regarding the hundreds of students who have been flown there for “religious studies” is not tackling the main issue: Somalis don’t need religious aid.

The Turks may be thinking that the future imams whom they train would serve as an important moderating influence in Somali mosques, but that may not pan out. For one, mosques are mostly run by those who built them or people they appoint. The Turks would have to build the mosques as well, if they want the imams they train to lead prayers in Somalia. Aha—next step, build more mosques.

However prayers may spiritually enhance us, let’s face it, they won’t build roads. Or perform surgery.

Somalia has one doctor for almost 60,000 people in some areas, according to irinnews.org . And the education sector is among the worst in the world. No, not religious education; almost every Somali child goes to a madrasa, and many memorize the whole Quran by the time they are 12 to 15 years old. And we wonder why our literacy rates are abysmal. Too bad that being able to write in Arabic doesn’t count.

Turkey, we appreciate your help in Somalia. Despite the threats and the bombings you have stayed with us. But can you please help us with things we really do need?

We are in need of engineers and doctors—and I don't mean Doctors of Religion. The kind that work in hospitals, not mosques.

Analysis
The Year of Unity...Again
02/15/2012
Frame from Ali Ahmed Godane's announcement
Frame from Ali Ahmed Godane's announcement

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

Last week, one of al-Shabaab's leaders, Ahmed Ali Godane (Abu Zubayr), and al-Qaeda leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, jointly released an audio and video message respectively in a video produced by Al-Qaeda’s media production house, As-Sahab, announcing that the Shabaab had joined al-Qaeda (for both videos and a partial translation, see here).

Abu Zubayr, always the careful one, did not post an image of his face, laying his voice over a picture depicting the Shabaab flag and a banner declaring "1433 AH" (1433 years after the prophet Mohamed fled to Medina) as the “year of unity.” This is the second consecutive declared “year of unity,” 2011 being the year when the weakened Hizbul Islam joined the Shabaab.

Interestingly, the venue and the banner look like the same as the last “year of unity” in December 2010. It is almost as if they just substituted "1433" for "1432."

The Shabaab are trying to portray their merger into al-Qaeda as part of their goal of seeking wider Islamic unity, having completed the unification of the internal armed Islamist groups within Somalia. It is a manifestation of their ideology, which considers all groups they judge to be true Mujahideen as their brothers in arms, united in the aim of liberating all current and former Muslim lands from their mostly “apostate” regimes. The Shabaab ideology is so similar to al-Qaeda that if al-Qaeda did not exist, the Shabaab would create it. Shabaab itself, after all, was founded by al-Qaeda-influenced individuals.

This merger was bound to happen sooner or later for three main reasons:

First, the Shabaab seem to have first submitted their initial application to join al-Qaeda in September 2009, when they released the video titled “Here I am at Your Service O' Usama”. Apparently, Osama bin Laden was not swayed by the production, keeping notes that went along the lines of “Can the Somali Shebab be trusted?”, according to The Telegraph. The answer, according to Al-Zawahiri, was a clear "Yes."

Second, the Shabaab have nothing to lose by officially joining al-Qaeda. They are listed as a terrorist organization by many countries and international organizations; their enemies are armed by the international community (which in turn made the internationalist faction stronger); drones and American spy planes form part of their skyline, giving them a sense of being under siege; many of their foreign and local leaders have been killed in missile or commando raids by the Americans. There is only upside for the Shabaab; although the move changes little on the ground, the optics of an official merger may rally the reportedly flagging support from foreign fighters assisting the movement inside and outside Somalia.

Third, as stated above, the Shabaab outlook on the world is similar to al-Qaeda’s. Their only difference was that the Shabaab had a policy of not attacking foreign lands save if Somalia had been attacked from those lands. They had no policy of attacking a non-Muslim country because the said country had sent troops to yet another Muslim country, like al-Qaeda does. With the merger into al-Qaeda, and Abu Zubayr’s pledge of “obedience” to the orders of al-Qaeda central, this policy will most likely be scrapped. Unless al-Qaeda central lets the Shabaab control their own foreign policy, which will become clear from the comments that Sheikh Mukhtar Robow and other moderate Shabaab leaders make in mosques or rallies in the coming weeks.

Not all within the Shabaab have internationalist ambitions, especially members from the disbanded Hizbul Islam (HI). Some within the former HI may not be happy with the merger with al-Qaeda, but it is very unlikely that we shall see a mass defection from the Shabaab to the TFG. I expect some of the former HI Shabaab members who were already worried about the drones to leave the Shabaab for civilian life. At the height of their power in early 2010, HI cadres could have joined the TFG from a position of strength securing themselves important positions in government, as did the opportunistic southern warlord Indha Adde. Now, civilian life is the only honourable way out for them.

The Shabaab have been organizing demonstrations in support of their al-Qaeda merger. On Tuesday, a pro-Shabaab site reported that thousands of people had turned out to support the Shabaab-al-Qaeda merger in Middle Shabelle region. The site further claimed that more demonstrations would be held in the other Shabaab-held regions in the coming days. Maybe then we will see more Shabaab commanders and regional governors commenting on the merger. Don’t expect any of them to make public condemnation of the merger, even if some of them are unhappy with it.

Perhaps to prove that 1433 AH is indeed a year of unity, the same pro-Shabaab site reported on Tuesday that a collection of neo-Salafist factions opposed to Shabaab have formed a united front. Al-Islah’s “New Blood” faction (those who armed themselves and fought during the period of the Islamic Courts Unions’ reign over Somalia, contrary to the political path that the Old Guard Al-Islah chose), I’tisam (basically, the successor organization to the "original" Somali Islamist group, Al-Ittihad Al-Islamiya, are now mostly peaceful), and “Aal Sheikh," also known as Madkhalis (no Jihad without the orders of the Muslim Rulers, is their argument) have united and given their top positions to former ministers in the administrations of Prime Ministers Farmajo and Omar Abdirashid.

These groups had broken with the insurgency in 2009 when Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was elected president of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the groups' Islamic scholars declared him to be the Emir of Muslims in Somalia, to be obeyed and followed. I’tisam went further and even entered into a peace deal with Ethiopia, disarming its armed wing in the country, the Western Somalia Liberation Front (WSLF). The Shabaab now despise members of these groups, especially the I’tisam, and have been accused of killing some of their members— charges the Shabaab deny.

These rumors of a merger may not pan out, but I would not be surprised if they turned out to be true. Then 1433 AH will sure be the year of unity. And not the kind of unity that is good for Somalia, may God save her. The Shabaab will not gain much from joining al-Qaeda, maybe more notoriety—but that will not change the situation on the ground, which is not looking good for them. But who knows what surprises they may have for us in the coming months.

Perhaps they’ll merge with the TFG in 1434 AH and declare that year another “year of unity”? We can only hope.

Analysis
The New Islamist Split Within the TFG
02/29/2012
Mubarak's Musings is a Somalia Report weekly column published every Wednesday. Follow Mubarak on Twitter, at @somalianalyst.

The Islamist star within the TFG may be setting in Somalia.

This was not the case three years ago when the Ethiopians withdrew, an Islamist was elected president of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), half its parliament was drawn from the Islamist-dominated Djibouti wing of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS). The cabinet was filled with Salafists (in the form Al-I’tisam, an offshoot of the “original” Somali Islamist group, al-Itihaad al-Islamiyya) and nationalist Islamists.

When Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was elected president of the TFG, the pro-Sharif wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and the Djibouti-ARS combined to control most of Mogadishu, most of Middle Shabelle region, almost all of Hiran region, and some areas of Galgaduud region.

Faced with growing calls for Shariah implementation from the pro-TFG Islamists and to weaken the rebel Islamists, the Islamist-dominated parliament voted in early 2009 to make Somalia an Islamic state ruled by Shariah. This did nothing to discourage the rebels from continuing their war, saying that voting for Shariah is itself disallowed in Shariah, and that there would be no implementation of Shariah by the TFG. They were right: Shariah was never implemented in the few blocks of Mogadishu into which the TFG was boxed for the greater part of three years.

In early 2009, even the Shabaab admitted that the pro-Sharif forces had better arms and more men than them. They skilfully played their cards, casting Sharif as a puppet, controlled by foreign masters, with no say in the future of the country except what he was told to say. ICU members started defecting to the Shabaab in droves; entire districts with their administration intact would join the Shabaab (interestingly, mass defections also took place among the ranks of the Islamist faction Hizbul Islam, which was also initially more powerful than the Shabaab, at least in early 2009).

In the first days of the fighting between the pro-Sharif and anti-Sharif Islamists, some sheikhs, including the Qatar-funded “Organization of Somali Islamic Scholars (OSIS)” took a middle stance and opted to give some time to Sharif to prove he would implement Shariah, and also asked for African Union Peacekeepers (AMISOM) to withdraw its then almost 4,000-strong force.

At least one major commander from the ICU who had defected to the Shabaab, Mohamed Kofi, listened to the sheikhs of the OSIS, despite having joined the Shabaab just weeks before with hundreds of his men (he did not get back even one, due to the Shabaab's habit of dispersing and mixing new recruits).

The Shabaab made the mistake of not listening to the Islamic scholars, instead following al-Qaeda and Osama’s labelling of Sharif an apostate that had to be fought.

The ideological war between the Somali Islamists has gone online, with rival groups posting videos and audio clips supposedly showing the heresy of the opposing group, and posting rebuttal videos when the other side is on the offensive.

For example, last year pro-HSM youth posted online an audio that featured the I’tisam head, Sheikh Mohamed Idris (an Eritrean who can speak better Somali than me; his mother is Somali) saying that he did “not care about Mogadishu”. In his defense, those youth kept asking him questions about Mogadishu at a Minneapolis mosque, but they made it look like he had no empathy for the suffering of people in Mogadishu, when in fact he merely seemed to be angry about their interruptions.

The Islamist break has made it into the heart of the TFG. While the TFG Islamists of all stripes (with the exception of the Sufis) had enjoyed good relations with one another, lately they have showed signs of breaking up and those groups that are more similar have coalesced around one political party.

Members of the Salafist groups Al-Islah (New Blood Faction), Al-I’tisam and Ala-Sheikh united under one political party , "Native Party," on February 13 to present one candidate in the August 2012 elections. Perhaps to give an impression that they are nationalists, their logo doesn’t have any indication that they are Islamists. No Quran, or Shabaab-style flag; just a map of Somalia draped in the Somali flag.

Feeling left out, the more nationalist elements formed their own political party days later, on the 19th, and called it the "Unity Party." This party has its logo clearly showing that they are an Islamist party: they have a Quran, but above it they have the Somali flag. They could have easily written “Islamist Nationalist” on their logo and the result would be the same.

Neither of the two parties was invited to the London conference, but both have members that are very influential in the Islamist scene in Somalia. Not to worry, since they share the lack of invitation with Ras Kamboni and the—dare I say—the "real" Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa.

While the different Islamists factions are “uniting” to form political parties, their collective power is diminishing as their differences are now magnified. You have the more nationalist and clan-based faction in the form of the Unity Party on one hand, and the Salafist Native Party on the other.

This disunity of the Islamists will most likely cost them the presidency of the federal government in the upcoming elections—a good thing for Somalia. Unless President Sharif uses state funds to bribe MPs to vote for him. In Somali politics, campaign money goes directly to the “voters:” all 550 of them (225 in the coming reformed parliament).

The Islamists' squabbling and bloodletting has shown how they are not too different from the secularists in the TFG. Sharif was elected to gain the TFG more territory and bring peace to Somalia; he failed to do both.

Hopefully, the new parliament will not vote as president an Islamist who may harbour sympathy to the Shabaab, as Sharif is accused of by the secular faction of the TFG

Somalia can not stand four more years of Islamist mismanagement. The Islamist division will hopefully prevent that.

Analysis
The Battle For Mogadishu Is Not Over
03/07/2012

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

Last week, African Union peacekeeping (AMISOM) forces captured the Maslah camp in Heliwa district on the outskirts of the city, one of the last Shabaab strongholds in Mogadishu (Daynille being the other district with a strong Shabaab presence). Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces were not far behind, according to a journalist who arrived at the scene a day after the conquest of Maslah, once the initial fighting had subsided. Government commanders were quick to claim victory, but stated that they presently had no intention of moving beyond Mogadishu.

While this is a victory for the allied forces, it is not the elusive “end of the Shabaab” that government members claim is almost within reach whenever a new building or piece of territory is taken from the Islamist group.

To understand the significance of the latest developments in Mogadishu, we have to look at the location of Maslah in relation to other AMISOM-TFG positions in the area.

To the south of Maslah is SOS intersection, which leads to the Pasta Factory further south, and outside of Mogadishu to the east through Wahar Cade. AMISOM and TFG forces were present in the area before the attack on Maslah, and it was from there that they launched the attack, according to Islamist websites.

Mogadishu University (MU) is roughly located directly west of Maslah, and three kilometers to the northwest of Pasta Factory—yet another AMISOM base in the area, captured on January 20. MU has a big compound with a number of concrete buildings that are perfect for a forward base. The 82-mm mortars used by the Shabaab are useless in penetrating concrete; only soldiers keeping sentry or walking in unprotected areas are vulnerable.

Heliwa district, Mogadishu
Heliwa district, Mogadishu

When AMISOM took MU, they made it almost impossible for the Shabaab to quickly bring reinforcements from Elasha Biyaha; MU is strategically placed next to the Barakaat Cemetery, through which a dirt path passes through, and which the Shabaab used to quickly move in and out of the Suqa Holaha ("Livestock Market") neighborhood without detection by AMISOM forces on Wadada Warshadaha (Industrial Road).

The capture of Maslah completes the third point on the AMISOM security triangle. The Shabaab cannot now easily enter northern Mogadishu from Elasha Biyaha (protected by the troops in MU), Jidka Balcad (protected by the troops in Maslah), and Wahar Cade (protected by the troops in SOS).

Perhaps the weakest point in the triangle is Maslah, with its few concrete shelters, and relative distance from the next nearest base. Still, it is the most important outer base, and the allied forces seem to have adequately reinforced it with TFG/ASWJ and AMISOM troops. Shabaab and pro-Shabaab sources are downplaying the significance of the allied forces’ takeover of Maslah, threatening to annihilate them.

Nevertheless, it seems that the Shabaab may be poised to permanently lose their hold on one of their oldest strongholds in Mogadishu, the Suqa Holaha neighborhood. With the allied forces to the north, south, and west of Suqa Holaha, keeping safe houses in the area has now become too dangerous.

In response to the setback, the Shabaab attempted a show of force in Mogadishu. They held a military parade in Daynille district (most of which they still control), where the Shabaab governor of Banadir, Sheikh Mohamed Omar Abdirahman, claimed that the group was still active in every district in Mogadishu, despite having withdrawn from their static front line positions.

However, the very fact that the diminutive parade was held in Daynille, and not in Suqa Holaha, shows the success AMISOM’s latest moves have had on the Shabaab's ability to hold parades in the area, as they previously have, even after withdrawing from the front lines in August of last year.

The effectiveness of the allied forces in dislodging the Shabaab from their strongholds in northern Mogadishu has not, however, translated to a decrease in attacks by the Shabaab within the city. This may be a prelude to more, bolder attacks in the future, such as the commando suicide attacks that the group has previously employed to attack TFG and AMISOM targets.

The Shabaab continue to assassinate government soldiers and members of the internal spy agency. The latest such attack was on Monday night, when “unknown gunmen”—very likely the Shabaab—assassinated two former Shabaab members who had joined the TFG military.

Nevertheless, not all defectors are targeted by the Shabaab; many defectors are indeed infiltrators who feign defection and repentance to get admission to the various TFG security forces. According to IRIN News, journalists in Mogadishu believe that the Shabaab defectors are responsible for the continuing insecurity in Mogadishu. TFG officials naturally disagree, claiming that the militants who are still moving among the civilian population are to blame for the increase in attacks. In other words, young men who have left the Shabaab but have not joined the TFG are suspects, while the real culprits—Shabaab “defectors”—are let loose to terrorize the residents of Mogadishu. Another problem with the Islamists in government!

Despite the initial claim by some in the TFG military that they would stop the offensive and concentrate on pacifying Mogadishu, it is now clear some in the TFG are pushing for extending the push from Maslah to the Middle Shabelle region. This past weekend, military commanders from the TFG and AMISOM met with the TFG’s Middle Shabelle administration-in-exile in Maslah. According to Colonel Anod of the TFG, their plan is to invade the Middle Shabelle region towns of Balcad, Jowhar, and Mahadaay, and to have the Ethiopians open another front from Hiran region.

However crazy it sounds, TFG commanders are notorious for talking about their actual military plans on record to the media. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some of what the colonel has said is true, and they do plan to invade Middle Shabelle; maybe not in the next 10 days, as he optimistically claimed.

The population of Middle Shabelle region will not be enthusiastic to welcome the TFG forces, especially as Abdi Jinow, an unpopular former warlord, is the TFG’s governor-in-exile.

The wise move would be for the TFG to spend a greater amount of time securing Mogadishu’s defenses in the fringe districts, while at the same time strengthening and improving the capacity of the forces within the city by purging defectors from the Shabaab and disciplining soldiers or police who rob the people.

That way, we will not only stop the Shabaab holding military parades in Mogadishu, but we will hopefully see a drop in their attacks behind the front lines.

Analysis
Who Was Responsible For The Nairobi Attack?
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.