Islamic militants in Somalia have threatened to “come into Kenya” if Kenyan forces do not leave Somalia, according to an online message posted on a jihadist website.
“Kenyan troops have entered 100 kilometers into Somalia, and their planes are bombarding and killing residents,” said Sheikh Ali Mahmud Ragi, spokesman for Al-Shabaab, an Islamic extremist group considered a terrorist organization by the United States, in the posting. “We shall come into Kenya if you do not go back.” (CNN)
Kenyan forces crossed into Somalia to pursue Al-Shabaab fighters after the recent abductions of tourists and aid workers in Kenya heightened tensions in East Africa. Kenya invoked the United Nations charter allowing military action in self-defence against its largely lawless neighbour. “If you are attacked by an enemy, you have to pursue that enemy through hot pursuit and to try (to) hit wherever that enemy is,” said Kenyan Defence Minister Yusuf Haji in a news conference aired on CNN affiliate NTV on Sunday.
Al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahamud Rage told the BBC Somali service that his fighters would attack Nairobi. Kenya launched an air and ground assault on the weekend, in response to several recent cross-border abductions it blames on al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab, which is linked to al Qaeda, has been fighting to impose its own interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia, on Somalia.
On September 11, armed bandits broke into a beachfront cottage where Britons Judith and David Tebbutt, both in their 50s, were staying. David Tebbutt was shot dead while trying to resist the attack. His wife was grabbed and spirited away onboard a speedboat, and is believed to have been taken into Somalia. On October 1, pirates made another cross-border raid, this time snatching a French woman in her 60s from a holiday home on Manda Island where she lived part of the year. Earlier this month, gunmen abducted two Spanish workers from the medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) from the Dabaab refugee complex, about 80 kilometers from the Somali border.
Mr. Rage said: “We will defend ourselves. Kenya doesn’t know war. We know war. The tall buildings in Nairobi will be destroyed. We have fought against governments older and stronger than Kenya and we have defeated them.” (BBC) He said that Kenya must pull its troops out of Somalia, “Otherwise remember what happened in Uganda’s capital.” (CBC) “We say to Kenya: Did you consider the consequences of the invasion? We know fighting more than you and defeated other invaders before,” Rage said. (CBC)
Kenya announced its new tactics days after African Union forces claimed victory against Al-Shabaab in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. The military said last week it had taken the remaining Al-Shabaab strongholds in the far northeast of the city.
“The challenge is now to protect civilians from the sort of terror attack we saw last week, as they attempt to rebuild their lives,” African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda said. (CNN) He was referring to a suicide truck bombing in Mogadishu earlier this month that left dozens dead. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility. Other Al-Shabaab attacks that week led to the deaths of at least 10 civilians.
Federal and African Union forces have battled Al-Shabaab in the impoverished and chaotic nation for years. Many analysts believe the ANISOM military push has severely affected Al-Shabaab, along with targeted strikes against organization members and the weakening of al Qaeda.
“Our team inside Somalia is doing well. So far, we have uprooted al-Shabaab from [the district of] Dhobley after air and ground raids,” a Kenyan officer told Reuters news agency. “We are working with other friendly armed groups… to fight the common enemy, al-Shabaab.” (BBC)
Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Masika Wetangula told the BBC that the troops went across the border at the request of Somalia’s transitional government. “What we are doing is in pursuit of a request by the government of Somalia and also our own interest as a country to fight a group that is terror-based,” he said. (BBC)
Kenyan officials implied that their military operation might be far more ambitious than the originally stated goal – simply pushing the Shabaab back from the Kenya-Somalia border – and that Kenyan troops were prepared to go as far as Kismayo, a Shabaab stronghold along the Indian Ocean. “We want to create an environment that’s good for the T.F.G.,” said a Kenyan military official, Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, referring to the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, a weak and fractious authority that has struggled to impose order in Somalia. “If that means going all the way to Kismayo, we are ready.” (New York Times)
Al-Shabaab said in August it was withdrawing from Mogadishu, and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, backed by African Union peacekeepers, now controls most districts of the capital city, the United Nations office has said. However, the group still poses a threat, Akunda has previously said.