Kenya fights war of ideas against Is­lamist threat

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

NAIROBI — After two at­tacks in 10 days by So­ma­lia’s al Shabaab group that killed more than 60 peo­ple, Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta vowed to step up his “war on ter­ror” to halt raids across the por­ous bor­der and stop any dream of mak­ing an Is­lamic Caliphate.

In So­ma­lia, he can point to mil­i­tary gains where Kenyan and other African troops have re­taken ter­ri­tory from al Shabaab, but he faces a more stub­born en­emy on home soil where se­cu­rity forces are try­ing to drive out mil­i­tancy from mosques.

“The only lan­guage th­ese kafirs (non-Mus­lims) can un­der­stand is the bul­let from the AK-47 ri­fle,” a Kenyan preacher told wor­ship­pers at Mom­basa’s Mina mosque last month be­fore po­lice shut it down - with three oth­ers - de­tain­ing about 100 youths.

Such tough tac­tics may tem­po­rar­ily si­lence the rad­i­cal voices but it also fu­els anger that helps mil­i­tants find new re­cruits and deep­ens the home-grown threat, Mus­lim ac­tivists say.

This is where al Shabaab may have a trump card. While it has been driven out of ma­jor So­mali strongholds, a mil­i­tary of­fen­sive in So­ma­lia has not stopped the group spread­ing its ide­ol­ogy and find­ing enough loyal foot sol­diers for at­tacks that need lit­tle more than ded­i­ca­tion to the cause and a few ri­fles.

Co­horts of frus­trated and of­ten job­less Mus­lim youths in the swel­ter­ing port city of Mom­basa and along the coast, where most Kenyan Mus­lims live, of­fer fer­tile ground for the Is­lamists.

Fire­brand ser­mons “The gov­ern­ment needs to sit down and un­der­stand th­ese peo­ple,” said Hus­sein Khalid of Haki Africa, a group that works to pro­mote di­a­logue with Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties. “It al­ways wants to use force and this merely pushes peo­ple away.”

Alarmed by ser­mons of fire­brand imams and rad­i­calised youths emerg­ing from mosques in Mom­basa, po­lice have in the past month shut four places of wor­ship and made mass ar­rests. This has been done be­fore but not on such scale.

“We want to ar­rest the sit­u­a­tion from spilling over to other mosques,” said Mom­basa County po­lice com­man­der Robert Ki­tur.

Al Shabaab said it launched re­cent raids partly to pun­ish Kenya for such acts of “ag­gres­sion” and promised to con­tinue.

Los­ing ter­ri­tory in So­ma­lia has not pre­vented al Shabaab ex­ploit­ing its guer­rilla skills. It may even free up re­sources.

“Now they are not rul­ing such the suf­fer­ing of Mus­lims in Mom­basa, where Ali stud­ied un­der a rad­i­cal preacher.

“Wait and see, it is just a mat­ter of time,” Ali said as a group of men tot­ing AK-47 ri­fles shouted: “Bul­lets and dag­gers have cre­ated war­riors. Let us spread this to all mosques.”

In 2007, Ali and his young sup­port­ers took over a Nairobi mosque, cre­at­ing a hot­bed of mil­i­tancy. Rad­i­cals have done the same in Mom­basa, de­fy­ing re­peated po­lice crack­downs.

“It has never worked any­where in the world,” Ali Has­san Joho, Mom­basa County Gov­er­nor, told Reuters of his con­cerns about po­lice strat­egy. “This is an ide­o­log­i­cal bat­tle, there­fore you can­not win it in any other way be­sides en­gage­ment.”

Liv­ing in fear Such wor­ries are not yet turn­ing into ac­tion. Haki Africa’s Khalid said meet­ings be­tween of­fi­cials and the Mus­lim com­mu­nity had thrashed out strat­egy but there had been no “con­crete meet­ings to con­firm or at least agree on how to roll that out.”

Rat­tled by bor­der raids in the north and other al Shabaab at­tacks this year along the coast, Keny­atta urged the Mus­lim com­mu­nity to help root out Kenya’s mil­i­tant “col­lab­o­ra­tors”.

But many mod­er­ate Mus­lim preach­ers have been cowed. In Novem­ber, Sheikh Salim Bakari Mwarangi, who sup­ported moves to stamp out rad­i­cal­ism, was shot dead by un­known as­sailants. Another mod­er­ate leader was killed in June.

“There is a very big sense of fear and peo­ple think it’s not worth chal­leng­ing th­ese (rad­i­cal) peo­ple,” said Mudhar Khi­tamy, coast chair­man of the Supreme Coun­cil of Kenyan Mus­lims.

When Mom­basa’s Mina mosque was shut­tered, about a dozen young men chant­ing “Al­lahu ak­bar”, or “God is great­est”, marched through the street and hacked to death a Christian shop­keeper.

Kenya needs re­think strat­egy, said a Western diplo­mat: “They’re not reach­ing the pop­u­la­tion they are try­ing to reach.” — Reuters.

FILE Pic: Mus­lim youths lie on the ground after they were ar­rested inside the Masjid Musa Mosque dur­ing ri­ots in Mom­basa, Kenya.

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