Kenya on edge as terror attack threat looms; militants seek security
uniforms, official says
By Associated Press, Published: January 11, 2012
NAIROBI, Kenya - The security bulletins warning of an impending assault by
terrorists are rising in intensity as Kenya's capital increases security
measures in hopes of preventing what would be the first massive attack here
since the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing.
The U.S. Embassy this week put out new rules prohibiting visitors from
bringing electronics or laptop computers into the compound. Shopping malls
are installing new security rules. And a new, high-end hotel has shuttered
its underground parking garage.
Al-Shabab, Somalia's al-Qaida-linked militant group, has repeatedly promised
to attack Kenya in retaliation for Kenyan forces moving into southern
Somalia in October. The group's spokesman threatened to bring Nairobi's
skyscrapers down, and though an attack of that magnitude appears unlikely,
intelligence officials fear some attack is imminent.
One Western diplomat told The Associated Press that recent intelligence
reports show that al-Shabab is trying to obtain security guard uniforms they
can wear while carrying out an attack, a common tactic used by militants in
Afghanistan. The diplomat spoke on condition he was not identified
discussing sensitive intelligence matters.
One analyst said he is surprised large-scale attacks haven't happened
"I don't think it's going to be grenade attacks. It's going to be a massive
truck bomb, simultaneous attacks. This is a signature of al-Shabab and
al-Qaida," said Rashid Abdi, a former Somalia analyst with the International
Crisis Group who is setting up an independent policy forum. "I think they
want to make a huge statement."
Al-Shabab carried out simultaneous bombings in Kampala, Uganda last year as
the World Cup final played on TV. Those attacks killed 76 people. Uganda
contributes troops to the African Union force that is fighting al-Shabab.
Last weekend Britain's Foreign Office warned that terrorists may be "in the
final stages of planning attacks," and Kenyan authorities said they had
thwarted attempted attacks by al-Shabab over the holidays. A new al-Shabab
video posted last week shows a militant named Ahmad Iman Ali urging Muslims
in Kenya to wage jihad.
The U.S. Embassy this week set its new security rules. Guards have been
issued new instructions to "stop and diligently screen" all vehicles with
diplomatic plates on them, according to a security directive obtained by The
In 1998, a truck bomb that was parked outside the U.S. Embassy in downtown
Nairobi killed more than 200 people. A simultaneous explosion detonated in
Tanzania's capital. In total 224 people died, mostly Kenyans, but also
including 12 Americans.
On Tuesday a text message circulated widely in Nairobi saying that the U.N.
had issued a bomb threat alert for Tuesday night. Kenyan police held a news
conference to deny that the text message was real. Police spokesman Eric
Kiraithe said police are monitoring dozens people in Kenya who have been in
contact with al-Shabab, and "10 among them are considered lethal."
Kiraithe also said there has been a spike of Westerners who sympathize with
al-Shabab flying into Kenya with the intention crossing over to Somalia to
fight for the group. In the last two weeks seven people from Western
countries, including the U.S. and UK, have been arrested and deported after
trying to make contact with al-Shabab, he said.
A former U.S. Army soldier was arraigned Monday on charges related to trying
to join al-Shabab.
Kiraithe said Kenya has done its best to secure itself against terrorism and
that no country in the world can claim to be completely secure against a
But the atmosphere is still tense. Police are working double shifts in order
to beef up their presence on Nairobi's streets, said one senior police
officer who requested anonymity because he is not allowed to speak with
Abdi said he is puzzled that al-Shabab had not yet carried out an attack.
That could be because its command corps has been degraded by fighting, or
because the group is having second thoughts.
"Al-Shabab probably recognizes that Kenya is important logistically," he
said. "It uses it as a conduit for funneling funds in and out of Somalia. It
is a safe haven in many ways."
The U.S. Embassy reissued its security warning for U.S. citizens in Kenya
late Monday. The warning says it has received information of potential
threats directed at prominent Kenyan locations where foreigners congregate,
such as malls and nightclubs.
One businessman at a shop selling high-end animal carvings said Tuesday he
was discounting his goods because tourist numbers are down, in part because
of the rash of security warnings. He said he did not fear a terror attack
despite the fact his business was adjacent to Nairobi's Hilton Hotel, though
he did refuse to give his name because he did not want to be confronted by
Abdi said he believes Kenyans are much more vigilant than in the past.
"But all of this is new for Kenyans," he said. "I don't think the reality
has probably sunk in, the threat that this country faces and what could
happen if al-Shabab attacks."
Associated Press reporter Tom Odula contributed to this report.
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Received on Wed Jan 11 2012 - 08:15:04 EST