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Al-Shabaab’s Escalating Violence Raises Concerns for Kenya’s Security


North Eastern Kenya has witnessed an escalation of violence by Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, with recent roadside bombs and beheadings claiming the lives of two dozen people.

While the country has not experienced a high-profile jihadist attack since 2019, smaller-scale assaults on minor targets have raised fears that Al-Shabaab militants are turning their focus to the country as they face setbacks in their native Somalia.

Al-Shabaab, estimated to have between 7,000 and 12,000 fighters, has been under pressure due to a counterterrorism offensive by the Somali National Army and US-trained commandos.

As a result, the group has carried out several attacks along Kenya’s long and porous frontier with Somalia, causing significant casualties, including 15 security officers in six separate attacks last month.

In one particularly gruesome incident claimed by the group, about 30 militants attacked two sparsely-populated villages in Kenya’s coastal Lamu county, killing five civilians and beheading some of them.

Experts suggest that these attacks serve as a signal to Kenya, demonstrating that Al-Shabaab still possesses firepower and is a force to be reckoned with, despite the pressure it is facing.

Kenya has been targeted by Al-Shabaab in the past, especially since deploying troops to Somalia as part of an African Union force in 2011.

The recent changes in Kenya’s security leadership following the election of President William Ruto in August 2022 may have emboldened the militants to increase attacks, taking advantage of perceived disorganization at the border.

The violence in the region also poses a risk of spillover into neighboring Ethiopia, where Al-Shabaab is trying to assert its presence.

Ethiopia recently reported foiling an attack by the jihadists in the border town of Dollo.

While Al-Shabaab has lost ground in Somalia due to counteroffensives by African Union forces and Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s “all-out war” against the group, the situation remains fragile, according to African Union Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat.

Kenya, aware of the threat, is cautious and has delayed the planned reopening of its border with Somalia.

The East African nation’s history of major attacks, such as those on the Westgate shopping center, Garissa University, and the Dusit hotel complex, has left the government committed to maintaining vigilance against potential threats.

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