Kapenguria attack demonstrated that violent extremist is a national security disaster

The recent Kapenguria Police Station attack where a rogue policeman killed seven of his colleagues including the Station Commander and a member of the elite RECCE squad that had been flown all the way from Nairobi to end the killing has served to show that violent extremism is the biggest security threat of our time. According to the Global Terrorism Database, since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been over a nine-fold increase in the number of deaths from terrorism, rising from 3,329 in 2000 to 32,685 in 2014.

In 2014, the Database ranked Kenya as the 12th most affected country by terrorism in the world and 3rd in Africa after Nigeria and Somalia. The Kapenguria gunman fitted a profile of a violent extremist, and postings in his social media page seem to confirm the same.

A number of lessons could be deduced from the Kapenguria extremist attack. One, terrorism and or violent extremism is no longer a problem of the North East, capital Nairobi or Coastal region but a nationwide security scare. There is likelihood that Al Shabaab has established its cells and franchises across the country. Al Shabaab is increasingly targeting non-traditional Muslim areas for recruits and possible attacks because such areas are outside normal police radar because of the way we perceive terrorism as a problem of a given area of the country.

Two, it is increasingly becoming difficult to profile a terrorist or an extremist. A potential terrorist could be your neighbor, former classmate, or the most behaved student in a college, a teacher, a doctor or the police officer you have entrusted your safety to. It is alleged that the rogue police officer was trying to free a terror suspect, a local teacher born and brought up in West Pokot and described by many as a well behaved neighbor.

Three, Al Shabaab could be changing its tactics or slowly gravitating towards Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). As alluded to above, it is now targeting least suspected areas for recruitment. In addition and as another recent case in El Wak, Mandera, infers, Al Shabaab is no longer wary of antagonizing local communities. In El Wak, the gunmen believed to be Al Shabaab shot discriminately at passengers on a Nairobi bound bus without caring who is a Muslim or not. These are tactics associated with groups like ISIS that are keen to punish local dissent leading many to wonder if indeed ISIS has established its cells in Somalia or has infiltrated Al Shabaab.

Based on these few lessons and emerging realities about Al Shabaab and violent extremist groups, we may as a country need to adjust a little bit to prevent and counter violent extremism. One; we should stop casual profiling of potential terrorists. It is yet to be ascertained if the Kapenguria rogue officer was a terrorist or was suffering from psychological or mental conditions. We should refrain from labeling any gunman who happens to be a Somali or a Muslim terrorist. We need Muslims and Somalis in the war against terrorism so let’s not create conditions or perceptions that may isolate a major section of the society that is critical in this war.

Two; and closely related to the above issue is continuously building and deepening trust between communities, and more specifically Muslim youth and law enforcement agencies. Terrorists and extremist groups have exploited this lack of trust to penetrate the society and establish local sleeper cells in Kenya. Law enforcement agencies should desist from extra judicial killings, enforced disappearances targeting a particular religion or ethnicity and maintain confidentiality whenever information is shared with them.

Three, the government should continuously invest in training and retraining of our security personnel. More than once, the elite RECCE unit of the General Service Unit (GSU) has proved to be the unit that can crack these terrorists or extremist groups. We need more RECCE units across the country.