NAIROBI: News that the Al Shabaab has split into competing factions is good and bad news for Kenya in its efforts to combat terrorism in the New Year.
Recently, the terror group split - one supporting the blood-thirsty Islamic State, Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the other supporting Al Qaeda founded by Osama Bin Laden.
While addressing the press last week, Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinett said the Isis-affiliated group is operating in Lafey near the Mandera border while the Al-Qaeda-linked faction is operating in southern part of Kenya and Boni Forest in Lamu County.
“They are competing to spread an international jihadist agenda, which could be deadly if and when it happens,” said Boinnet.
In the short term, the split is good news for Kenya’s efforts to combat terrorism wits since the two factions will dedicate more time and resources fighting each other for supremacy, said anti-terrorism expert George Musamali.
However, in the long run, the entry of the well-financed and exceedingly brutal ISIS to the region could mark a return to more and well-coordinated attacks in Kenya, he said.
“Isis is the group that any wannabe jihadist wants to join. It is extremely brutal in its tactics, and well-funded. It has drawn the brightest but most devious minds in to its rank and file from all over the world,” he said. He said the reason Al Shabaab joined hands with ISIS is to provide the latter with the much-needed financial lifeline at a time when it is on the back foot.
Al Shabab, Al Qaeda’s franchise in East Africa, has been on a back foot in recent times following a string of losses in the territory it holds and the decimation of its top leadership.
It has lost significant ground to African Union forces fighting inside Somalia and most of its founders have been killed in unrelenting drone attacks by the U.S.
Consequently, the group has been trying to prove relevance to its supporters by going for soft targets, such as bus attacks in Mandera and elsewhere. Amid these challenges, the group has been unable to execute another signature attack in Kenyan soil, such as the Westgate Mall attack in 2013 or the Garissa University College attack in April. In March last year, ISIS reached out to Al Shabab in a bid to expand its reach and influence beyond its base in Iraq and Syria, part of a wider plan to realization of its caliphate (kingdom).
In October, the leader of Al Shabab in Puntland region of Somalia pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abubakar Al Baghdadi and declared Puntaland a wilayat (district) of the Islamic State.
Unlike Al Qaeda which has been starved of cash Isis has been funding its own operations to the tune of millions of dollars every month through selling of smuggled oil in the territories it controls.