Questions over attacks in Lamu three years after DusitD2 carnage

Kenya defence forces while on patrol in Lamu after the dusk to dawn curfew was ordered. [Jane Mugambi, Standard]

Lamu is yet again in the news after another bloody attack claimed the lives of 13 people, including four police officers, two weeks ago.

The attack happened 13 days to the third anniversary of Nairobi’s DusitD2 Complex terror attack that left 20 people dead three years ago. 

State agencies, security analysts, and clerics concur that the diabolic attacks in Lamu were acts of an unholy alliance between Al Shabaab returnees and locals out to settle scores.

The latest attacks in Kibaoni, Widho, Hindi, and Milihoi on the Garsen-Witu-Lamu road have sparked anger, grief, and questions on the identity and motive of the assailants.

The attacks and the ensuing reactions have also rekindled a debate on insurgency warfare blamed on religious, tribal, political or economic rivalry in Lamu since 1963 Shifta War.

“The motives are land tenure rows, political rivalry pitting indigenous tribes against the settlers but carried out by trained militants,” said Malindi Diocese Catholic Bishop Wildbad Lagho.

Bishop Lagho, who oversees the church’s activities in Lamu, said the State should carefully untangle the complexities of the crises created in Lamu, adding that knee-jerk reactions would no help.

“Issuance of title deeds to either the indigenous people or squatters will not help. It needs a careful study before coming up with a solution on how to untangle that unholy alliance,” he said.

“But for now, we are facing a humanitarian crisis because there are displaced persons living at Majembeni Primary School and police stations.”

Security experts argue that rivalries or suspicions among communities in Lamu were exacerbated by the settlement of the landless people from Central Kenya at Mpeketoni.

On Monday, villagers in Kibaoni area of Lamu West barricaded the Garsen-Witu-Lamu road to protest the killings, terming them a “xenophobic attack” against one community.

Jane Kariuki, one of the protestors, said the killings were disguised as an Al Shabaab attack by some locals to drive out settlers from a disputed ranch in the area.

“It is very clear that one community is the target. It was carried out in a fashion similar to the 2014 and 2015 attacks, which targeted men to scare people out of the place,” she said.

Her sentiments appeared to echo those of Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and Lamu Governor Fahim Twaha who linked the attacks to land rows and local politics.

Both Muslim and Christian religious leaders and the county’s political leaders have called for the de-escalation of the situation, saying communities in Lamu had for years lived in harmony.

Dr Werunga Simiyu said there was a need for security agencies to establish whether the situation in Lamu was a result of terror, banditry or both.

 “The attacks were undoubtedly conducted by highly trained militants,” said Dr Simiyu, a security expert.

He said the precision, tactical, and firepower employed in the ambush of the four police officers at Milihoi show that the assailants had military training.

“It is only a trained person who can make such tactical military precision. The ambush or siege and how the target was hit reveals that the attackers are well trained,” said Simiyu.

The officers’ vehicle was hit by an explosive fired by militants using a rocket-propelled grenade. They had escorted a convoy of vehicles from Gamba in Tana River County to Lamu County.

Ten people have been arraigned over the killings.

Meanwhile, the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haj has ordered the police to probe Lamu politician Abubakar Amana for alleged incitement.

Simiyu and Bishop Lagho said Al Shabaab and its offshoot Jaysh Ayman could be out to endear themselves to the locals by carrying out mercenary work.

He said as the country commemorates the third anniversary of Nairobi’s DusitD2 Complex carnage, Kenyans should not drop their guard despite the current lull in the terrorist attacks in major towns.

“Since DusitD2, we have done very well in the conventional counter-terrorism. We have good early warning signs that have prevented very many attacks,” said Simiyu.

On January 15 and 16, 2019, an estimated six jihadists attacked the DustiD2 Complex in Nairobi’s Westlands area and killed 20 people.

Change of strategy

Lagho said the State’s decision to change its strategy after the DustiD2 attack to both “adopt soft and hard power” in the fight against radicalisation has reduced terror attacks.

“The State has created a multi-agency team working in a coordinated manner, use of soft power and involved non-State actors in the de-radicalisation,” said Lagho.

A security consultant at Kenyatta University Abdi Daib said the Lamu attacks were political issues and had nothing to do with Al Shabaab terror group.

“These are tribal clashes camouflaged as an Al Shabaab attack. The government has done very well in the war against terrorism. One has to look around our neighbours to appreciate that,” he said.

In 2015, a United Nations task force report warned that the Al Shabaab offshoot Jaysh Ayman had the capacity to hold territory in areas north of Lamu. The county has been declared a “disturbing area”.

Security analysts say that the group, backed by other fighters, found Boni Forest a safe haven because of its impenetrable canopy of shrubs and marshland between Witu and the Indian Ocean.

In early 2014, the group’s attacks concentrated on Bodhai, Basuba and other areas about 120 kilometres northeast of Mpeketoni near the Kenya-Somalia border.

Between June 15 and June 17, 2014, the militants killed 65 people in and near Mpeketoni town and burnt property estimated to be worth millions of shillings.

This marked the terror group’s rise in Lamu, and it has since claimed responsibility for other raids carried out in similar fashion in Lamu and parts of Tana River counties.