Report: Al Shabaab targets historical grievances to advance agenda in Kenya

NAIROBI, KENYA: A new report has called on the government to step up its efforts to prevent the Al-Shabaab militant group from taking advantage of local historical grievances to advance their agenda in Kenya.

The report  released Friday by the  think-tank, the International Crisis Group, asserted that Al Shabaab is actively seeking to exploit various grievances in the country as well as political, ethnic and religious divisions to expand its tentacles in the country.

The publication, titled "Kenya: Al-Shabaab – Closer to Home"  indicates that among the grievances that the rebel group is seeking to exploit is the perceived marginalisation among Muslim communities in Nairobi, the coast and the north east, and institutional discrimination at a national level.

It pointed that continued "discrimination" against many Kenyan Muslims  in the issuance of identity cards and passports, continues to provoke a sense of alienation and resentment that Al Shabaab is keen to tap on to lure gullible youths into joining their ranks. 

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The report indicated that recent  counter-terrorism  operations that imposed collective punishment and blame on people of certain communities and faiths are also creating a deep sense of injustice among victims which Al Shabaab may ruthlessly exploit.

It cited the April 2014 Usalama Watch operation  which " further alienated communities whose cooperation and support is vital in the fight against terrorism."

During the operation, there were mass arrests and detention  of people of certain ethnic  and religious communities, following a series of devastating  grenade attacks in Nairobi and other parts of the country. 

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The arrests also nabbed children, women and senior citizens. Police were also accused of extortion of cash and physical abuses.

Among the recommendations of the report are calls on  Kenyan leaders to ensure that counter-terrorism operations are better targeted at the perpetrators and do not persecute wider ethnic and faith communities.

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The report appealed  for a review of  the operations of the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) when they appear to target whole communities, and allow for transparent investigations and redress where operations are found to have exceeded rule of law/ constitutional rights and safeguards

It further stated: "It is vital to implement the recommendations of the 2008 (“Sharawe”) Presidential Special Action Committee to address institutional discrimination against Muslims (eg, issuance of identity cards and passports) and better (proportional) representation of Muslims in senior public service appointments," said the briefing report.

Specifically, the ICG publication called for robust and urgent efforts to manage and heal the rising communal tensions and historical divisions that Al  Shabaab violence has deliberately agitated in the country, most recently in Lamu county. 

Regarding festering political, ethnic and religious differences that Al Shabaab is keen to exploit to advance its agenda, the report   called on politicians in government and Opposition  to stop playing politics with terrorism by taking partisan positions in response to attacks.

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Al-Shabaab International Crisis Group Anti-Terrorism Police Unit