Al Shabaab now targets security agencies, new report reveals

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019 07:35 |
The wreckage of a police vehicle in which 10 officers died after it ran over an Improvised Explosive Device on Degoh Road in Garissa last month. PD/FILE

Al Shabaab terrorists have shifted focus to targeting Kenyan security agencies and infrastructure, particularly using Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and ambushes, a study has shown. 

Last year, Kenya witnessed a drop in terror-related fatalities owing to fewer attacks on civilians, according to a report by  the United States Department of State Publication Bureau of Counterterrorism.

The Country Reports on Terrorism 2018 released last week, however, warns that attacks targeting civilians still occur.

Some of the attacks during the period captured in the report include the February 16, 2019, attack in which three teachers were killed in Wajir, the May 8 IED in Lamu County that killed eight Kenyan soldiers and injured two, and the June 6 attack where five General Service Unit (GSU) officers were killed in Liboi.

Others are the August 13 IED attack that destroyed a police vehicle in Mandera, killing 10 people, and the September 14 attack where two passengers were killed in Garissa.

 According to the report, Kenyan security agencies have responded to numerous terrorist incidents, while also disrupting Al-Shabaab and Isis attack planning, recruitment and travel. 

It, however, cites uneven co-ordination, resource constraints, insufficient training, corruption, and unclear command and control as factors that hinder the effectiveness of the security agencies.

Unlawful killings

There were also reports of human rights violations by security forces during counterterrorism operations, including allegations of extra-judicial killings, disappearances and torture. 

“The Kenyan government or its agents continued to face allegations of committing arbitrary and unlawful killings, particularly of known or suspected criminals, including terrorists,” it said.

The legal challenges have also been cited like in the case where the High Court overturned five convictions for attempted terrorist travel to Somalia, as the government did not follow legal procedures for designating Somalia as a prohibited destination. 

Reports that most terror suspects charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) in Kenyan courts were acquitted     have further exacerbated the situation. The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) uses Pota to investigate and prosecute terrorism cases.

Westgate attack

The report indicates that access to defense counsel for terrorism suspects is limited, adding that the government has yet to fund a public defender service, which is critical to the success of its National Legal Aid Action Plan. 

Another challenge noted in the report is the slow progress of terrorism cases. At the end of 2018, for example, the trial of four Kenyans accused of providing support for the 2013 Westgate Mall attack and four Kenyans and one Tanzanian linked to the 2015 Garissa University attack were yet to be concluded.

The report notes that Kenya has put in place several measures to fight terror in the country. One is the strengthening of the National Counterterrorism Centre’s mandate to include dealing with private security companies and key sectors on soft target attacks. 

The Kenya’s Executive Order No. 1 of June 2018 strengthened the centre’s mandate regarding counterterrorism-related interagency coordination.

Kenya’s security agencies have also focused on soft target threats in major cities and tourist areas, primarily universities, shopping malls, hotels and holiday resorts.

The Rural Border Police Unit has also been trained in tactical ground sensor operations and border security operations, and equipped by the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance programme. 

GSU counterterrorism response team is also being trained and funded by the United States.

In June last year, Kenya and the US entered an agreement to provide the country with US Automated Targeting System-Global (ATS-G) software, which facilitates screening of air travellers.


The ATS-G is to be integrated with the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System, a border control database system largely based on biometrics, thereby enhancing the capabilities of both systems to target potential threats and counter terrorist travel through Kenya.

On February 19, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions published national plea-bargaining rules, incorporating them into the Criminal Procedure Code.

Effective use of plea agreements could allow for inclusion of information and evidence provided by cooperating suspects to prosecute higher-level terrorism suspects. 

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