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Minister highlights kidnap threat in Sahel and North Africa

Posted by African Press International on December 10, 2013

LONDON, United-Kingdom, December 6, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ – FCO Minister Robertson met travel industry representatives to emphasise the continuing threat of terrorist kidnap in Sahel and North Africa.

Mr Hugh Robertson said:

“Despite the success of military intervention in Mali, there remains a very real threat of kidnap to westerners in areas of the Sahel and North Africa.

“Our travel advice provides a detailed assessment of the threat in individual countries. This allows individuals to make informed decisions about where they travel.

“The British Government takes the threat to British nationals overseas extremely seriously. The Prime Minister has made the security of British nationals in high threat countries a priority. The UK, along with G8 partners, has committed to reducing terrorist groups’ access to funding by rejecting ransom payments. It is a very tough policy to follow, but we believe that this is the only way to prevent further kidnappings.”

During the meeting, Foreign Office officials underlined that the threat makes some areas, which may appear to be attractive destinations, unsafe for tourism.

The threat from groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQ-M) and Al Murabitun has been demonstrated by a number of recent attacks including in In Amenas in January this year. Groups like AQ-M rely on kidnap for ransom as their major source of funding and are prepared to go to extreme lengths to secure hostages.



United Kingdom – Ministry of Foreign Affairs


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The black flags of Ansar al-Sharia no longer fly over Abyan, but insecurity remains

Posted by African Press International on October 9, 2013

The black flags of Ansar al-Sharia no longer fly over Abyan, but insecurity remains


ADEN,  – A large-scale aid effort focused on rebuilding conflict-hit Abyan Governorate in southern Yemen is yielding positive results, but more than a year after al-Qaeda-linked militants were driven out, the police – and an accompanying sense of security – have yet to return.

Most residents have moved back though; markets have sprung to life, rebuilding work has begun and an international aid effort has helped people restart their lives.

With landmines largely cleared, and schools and hospitals being rebuilt, the attention for aid workers is now switching from emergency provision, to early recovery and livelihoods, even if many of the underlying challenges of security and development remain.

“This was the fastest return I’ve ever seen – I never thought this would happen,” Asif Hayat, head of Aden’s Mercy Corps office, told IRIN. “They [displaced people] started going back very soon and we even had to redesign our programme mid-implementation to do our distribution through the communities that had returned.”

Unlike the more protracted displacement crisis in the north of Yemen, internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had fled Abyan en masse to the neighbouring governorates of Aden and al-Lahj started returning in large numbers not long after government forces drove back Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law) militants in late June 2012.

The latest IDP figures from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) show 162,253 IDPs have returned to Abyan since the crisis, while just 6,133 IDPs remained outside the governorate as of the end of April.

Insecurity hampers aid delivery

But the security situation is a major concern, and something that continues to hamper the delivery of aid in Abyan, especially following a perceived deterioration in security in the last six months.

In May, staff with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were kidnapped on two separate occasions within a few days. They have since cut back on surgical support at the main hospital in Jaar, even if they continue to provide medical support, and will hand over two rehabilitated hospital wings in mid-October.

“We continue to work and expand our programme where the security situation allows and with difficulties of access for international staff,” said Daniel Cavoli, head of the ICRC’s Aden sub-delegation, “but we’ve been able to implement our programme and are working hard to serve Abyan.”

The restrictions mean the monitoring of aid programmes is more difficult, and international agencies often depend on local partners to help implement projects.

“When you implement with locals you find it easier to penetrate,” said Manenji Mangundu, programme manager for Oxfam in the southern city of Aden. He said beneficiary villages are often best placed to provide security updates.

But he said the capacity of local partners can be limited, something other aid workers also said was an issue.

“The security fabric has not changed, which means travel for programme staff to the field is extremely restricted,” said Hayat from Mercy Corps.

“We are trying with remotely managed programmes with local implementing partners – local staff better able to move around. But this brings with it a lot of monitoring challenges and quality issues; our engineering projects require specialist monitoring and guidance.”

One strategy has been to introduce lots of benchmark payment mechanisms to keep a steady evaluation going of a programme’s implementation. But in areas like microfinance, lenders have been difficult to attract because they fear they will have few means of chasing up repayments.

Unpopular “Popular Committees”

On the road from Aden to Abyan’s capital, Zinjibar, after an initial police checkpoint, almost all the subsequent roadblocks are manned by members of the armed “Popular Committees”.

These were the groups co-opted by the government to help drive out Ansar al-Sharia militants, and they continue to be responsible for day-to-day law and order.

“They are the people in control of everything – they are police, judge, everything,” said Abdullah Masq Saleh, an IDP from Abyan still living in Aden. “No-one can say that security is returning to Abyan. There are no official security forces. We want a police station. There are only checkpoints of Popular Committees.”

The “Popular Committees” are varied in terms of their composition; some were local self-defence groups created by communities for their own protection against Ansar al-Sharia, others were motivated by a religious belief that al-Qaeda-allied militants were un-Islamic; while others were armed groups formerly allied to Ansar al-Sharia who agreed a truce with the government and switched sides.

The Committees’ situation remains ambiguous, not least because of their lack of uniforms and the limited funds they receive from the state. Aid workers complain that it is often difficult to differentiate the Committees’ forces (some of whom seem to be children), from tribal gangs, criminals, or even Ansar al-Sharia.

“This was the fastest return I’ve ever seen – I never thought this would happen”

“The Popular Committees are patrolling and they are the decision-makers, but they have no background in justice, in law – they are just taking their arms and acting as judges and police,” said Abdullah Mohammed Al-Jifry, an analyst who works with the Abyan Social Cohesion Organization, which tries to reduce community conflicts.

“The danger with the Committees is that even the communities are now complaining about them. The Committees themselves are sometimes in conflict with each other – and with the tribes as well.”

Al-Jifry said the Committees could only serve as a temporary stopgap until the government is able to provide a more professional service and also tackle the underlying issues that encourage insecurity, like the lack of development and the neglect of the governorate by the state.

Ansar al-Sharia was able to take control of Abyan and seek to establish what they called an Islamic caliphate in 2011 because of the weakness of the central government, which at the time was struggling to control Arab Spring-inspired protests. Some locals credit Ansar al-Sharia with establishing a degree of stability in Abyan because of its ability to impose order on warring tribes.

Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants remain active in the governorates to the east of Abyan and assassinations and attacks by various groups have spiked in recent weeks in major cities and towns across the country.

Some community leaders fear Ansar al-Sharia could return to Abyan, pointing particularly to the recent rise in the building of mosques that are not under the control of the state, and that could harbour extremists.

“We are still dependent on the Popular Committees for security, but the government has a very serious intention to bring back the police, hopefully this year,” Mahdi Hamed, head of the services committee on Abyan local council, told IRIN. “The committees don’t really have the capacity to rule everything.”

The head of the government’s Executive Unit for IDPs in the south, Col Abdullah Mohammed Al-Duhaimi, said things were improving: “The biggest problem was the security. Alhamdulillah [praise be to God], nowadays we can say that it is more than 90 percent better than it was before. Still we need very strong government intervention – it’s been very low so far.”

The local government recognizes that security has improved even if “it is not yet what it was,” says Hamed. But he does not see Ansar al-Sharia returning. “We just hope that these things never happen again. There’s no chance for war to come back – we don’t wish it and we don’t expect it. We’ve suffered more than enough. Abyan suffered and paid a lot.”

On the security front, major progress has at least been made on dealing with the issue of mines and unexploded weaponry. “Things are safer; life is going back to normal,” said Iskander Youssouf, who until recently was coordinating work in the south of Yemen for the Mines Action Centre (YEMAC). Since May 2012 they say they have cleared 10 zones of mines, removing around 80,000 mines and unexploded ordnance.

“Life is coming back”

The devastation caused by the fighting between the government and Ansar al-Sharia militants left few buildings untouched in the areas where fighting took place.

The humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, told IRIN it was vital to help people rebuild their homes and communities, and to give them the skills to earn a livelihood.

“What we are worried about is that these people will go back [to Ansar al-Sharia] again because we know from facts that al-Qaeda used to provide support to the families,” he said.

“So if these people don’t see any effort from the international community or from the government, and the government has very limited capacity now, they will go back as again more dangerous than before, and that could be an element that could make the whole [transition] process collapse.”

The immediate work focused on restoring water and electricity services in the towns and cities, and rebuilding the physical infrastructure. Many residents have now received partial grants from the specially-established Abyan Reconstruction Fund, although several people from Abyan complained to IRIN that the varying amounts people receive were unfair, and said corruption was rife.

A recent assessment by Mercy Corps suggested returnees’ appetite for non-food items (distributed in large numbers) was diminishing and the majority of those assessed stressed the importance of providing long-term livelihood support.

Humanitarian agencies like the ICRC, the International Organization for Migration, and Mercy Corps have been running cash-for-work projects and livelihoods training, including cleaning irrigation channels, providing fishing equipment and distributing seeds.

“There’s almost now an issue of overcrowding – it’s hard to find a beneficiary who hasn’t received some support,” said Mercy Corps’ Hayat. “As long as we can support a same family in different ways then I’m in support, but we don’t want us to train one person in mechanics, in farming and in commerce.”

But coordination has helped, he says. “The clusters here are very effective – I’d say they are the most coordinated I’ve come across.”

And Hamed from the local council in Abyan is also upbeat about the work done so far by UN agencies and others: “The infrastructure – everything in Abyan – has come back. The war destroyed almost everything. But now life is coming back.”

jj/cb  source


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Norway: Memorial gathering in Oslo for Kenya’s Westgate Victims

Posted by African Press International on October 7, 2013

Kenyans and friends living in Norway gathered this weekend (5th October 2013) to remember those who died in the cowardly terrorist attack that took place in Westgate Shopping Mall on Saturday 21st September where over 65 people were killed.  Some are missing and are yet to be found by their loved ones. No one knows whether they are dead.





The Al Shabaab of Somalia took responsibility for the attack, saying they are on a revenge mission against Kenya for their involvement in Somalia. The Kenya Government entered Somalia a couple of years a go to help stabilise the country and help get a government of the people, ridding out the Al Shabaab. There are still small groups operating in the Southern part of Somalia.

The Al Shabaab says the attack in Westgate Mall causing deaths is a signal they are sending to Kenya that there will be more such attacks if Kenya does not remove its soldiers from Somali soil – the government has soldiers participating in the Africa Union army helping the weak Somali government that the Al Shabaab want to dislodge. and turn the country into a Somali Muslim Republic with strict Somali laws.



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Nairobi: President Kenyatta addressing the Nation says the siege has ended, declares 3 days of mourning

Posted by African Press International on September 25, 2013

Westgate Mall siege has ended. Many People lost their lives. President Kenyatta addresses the Nation and declares 3 days of mourning.


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Kenya: Deaths risen to 59 – Terror attack in Nairobi

Posted by African Press International on September 22, 2013

The Al Shabaab terror attack yesterday in Nairobi is now reported to have taken 59 lives and 175 reported injured.

Kenya Cabinet Secretary for Interior has confirmed the number of deaths. This is a big loss to Kenya and the families affected.




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Kenya: Westgate Attack: Security agencies response – Al Shabaab takes the blame

Posted by African Press International on September 21, 2013

It has been reported that the AL Shabaab is responsible for the attack

President Uhuru speaks to the Nation:



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Kenya: Marginalized and radicalized

Posted by African Press International on May 9, 2013

Countering the radicalization of Kenya’s youth

Radicalized, marginalized, poverty-stricken young people are saying, “We don’t belong to Kenya”

NAIROBI,  – Unemployment, poverty and political marginalization are contributing to the Islamic radicalization of Kenya’s youth, a situation experts say must be addressed through economic empowerment and inclusive policies.

Youth unemployment is extremely high, as are levels of political disenchantment. An estimated 75 percent of out-of-school youths are unemployed, according to the US Agency for International Development(USAID).

“The unemployment crisis is a ticking bomb. Over 60 percent of the population is under 25. You cannot ignore that,” said Yusuf Hassan, the Member of Parliament for Nairobi’s Kamukunji Constituency, which has a large Muslim population. “A huge and significant population is restless. And the gap between the rich and poor is getting wider.”

“When access to resources is based on ethnic, cultural or religious characteristics or there is a growing divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in countries and communities, economic conditions further contribute to instability,” says a new report by the Institute for Security Studies in Africa(ISS). “Countries confronted by large differences between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ are additionally vulnerable to conflict, which may include resorting to acts of terrorism.”

Marginalized and radicalized

A string of grenade attacks – some allegedly by Somali Islamist insurgent group Al-Shabab or their sympathizers – have occurred in the Kenyan towns of Garissa, Mombasa and the capital, Nairobi, since Kenya began its military incursion in Somalia in October 2011.

But Islamic radicalization is not new to Kenya. Kenyans were involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and the Tanzania city of Dar es Salaam; the coordinated attacks, which killed more than 220 people, were Africa’s first suicide bombings by Al-Qaeda’s East Africa cell. In a 2002 dual car-bomb and suicide attack on a hotel and plane in Mombasa, at least one of the suspects was Kenyan.

Muslims make up an estimated 11 percent of Kenya’s population; large Muslim communities can be found in the country’s northeast and in the coastal region. Traditionally, Kenya’s Muslims are moderate, with the community peacefully seeking participation in politics. But ISS pointed to the historical political marginalization of Muslims – right from negotiations for Kenya’s independence, in which ethnic Somalis, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, were not represented – as a contributor to the radicalization of young people.

“Although Kenya is a secular state, it is essentially a Christian country because of the dominant Christian population… There is the perception that Islam is ‘alien’, despite the fact that it came to Kenya before Christianity,” the report notes.

The report also found that some young Kenyan Muslims have been influenced by radical preaching, which leads them to believe that wars being fought against Muslims abroad – for example, in Afghanistan and Iraq – are part of “a global campaign against Islam”.

According to a 2011 report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, non-Somali Kenyan nationals constituted the largest and most organized non-Somali group within Al-Shabab.

Taking advantage of vulnerable youth 

“We’ve already seen the rumblings of ‘Pwani si Kenya‘ [Coast is not Kenya, the slogan of a separatist group in Kenya’s Coast Province] – radicalized, marginalized, poverty-stricken young people are saying, ‘we don’t belong to Kenya’,” said Hassan, who was seriously injured in a 2012 grenade attack in his constituency.

The ISS report found that Islamist militants were exploiting sub-standard socioeconomic conditions, and the government’s inability to provide basic services, by positioning themselves as providers of assistance. “Creating or infiltrating bona fide charity organizations… is a sure way to win the general support of ordinary people,” the report said.

The report points to the growing influence of the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC), a Kenyan group whose objectives include promoting community health and social welfare, but which also advocates “an extreme interpretation of Islam and prepares members to travel to Somalia for ‘jihad’ [holy war], thus attracting the attention of security agencies in Kenya and abroad.” According to the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, Al-Shabab announced a merger with MYC in 2012.

Hassan Sheikh, a cleric in the northeastern town of Garissa, said extremist groups have taken control of many mosques and Islamic schools, setup orphanages, and employed teachers and imams.

“North Kenya is a hub for mercenaries. You can easily get [attract] them – it’s out of poverty,” said Khalif Aabdulla, a civil rights activist from Wajir, also northeastern Kenya.

NGOs and government officials in Kenya acknowledge an urgent need to develop a counter-radicalization policy to prevent young people from turning to violent groups, and some say Kenya’s newly elected government may be an opportunity to tackle the issue. NGOs say the government must do more than promote economic empowerment among marginalized communities; it must also foster a sense of belonging.

“There are some efforts to use the Council of Imams or Islamic Preachers’ Association to talk to the youths,” said Mwalimu Mati, CEO of governance watchdog Mars Group Kenya. “The moderates are trying to assist the government, but I can’t say it’s a complete success.”

Counter-productive counter-terrorism

“The problem is exacerbated by counter-terrorism programmes by the Kenya police who carry out mass raids rather than targeted arrests. It keeps the youths feeling repressed generally. They then identify that as oppression based on religion,” Mati said. He says the problem is primarily in North Eastern District, Eastleigh and Coast Province.

The ISS report describes the current approach as “collective punishment based on perceptions”.

Separatist groups like the Mombasa Republican Council attract disenfranchised youth

“Most perceptions are completely wrong, especially that Somali nationals are responsible for attacks in Kenya or that Kenya is an innocent bystander when acts of terrorism are committed on its soil,” it stated.

Following attacks in Nairobi, ethnic Somalis – both Kenyan and foreign nationals – said they experienced xenophobia and lived in constant fear of arrest.

Under the government of former president Mwai Kibaki, both the Ministry for Peace-building and Conflict Management and the Ministry for Education told IRIN that they had no programmes to address radicalization.

The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sport said they ran “empowerment programmes” in conjunction with the formal education system. But as Leah Rotitch, a director in the education ministry, said, “The people Al-Shabab target are normally young people who are out of school.”

The persecution felt by ethnic Somalis and other Muslim communities has only increased in recent years, with police allegedly engaging in extrajudicial use of force and even killings of terror suspects; the police deny these claims.

“Since the passing of the new anti-terror bill, we have seen a huge spike in extrajudicial killings. And terrorism has become an easy label,” said Horn of Africa analyst Abdullahi Halakhe. “Such efforts only succeed in alienating the local population, who usually have critical human intelligence. They are turning the Islamic radicalization of young people into a matter of national security, making those young people their enemies, thus making it worse.”

The ISS report calls for “introspection on the part of the police officer stopping and searching a person because he looks Somali”.

Reaching the young

Tom Mboya, who established the Inuka Kenya Trust in response to the role young people played in perpetrating the post-election violence of 2007-2008, says now is an opportunity to engage the youth. “They’re what should be the engine of this country,” he told IRIN.

“Devolution is positive,” he says, referring to the process of decentralizing power from Nairobi, which was set in motion by Kenya’s new constitution. Mboya believes this process will create opportunities for young people. But, he says, “in parts of the country more prone to violent extremism, there needs to be policy in place. The leadership will have to be more alive to that problem”.

A focus on young people formed a key part of new President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election campaign – his government will now have to work out an acceptable and effective approach in tackling the issue of violent extremism.

Mars Group’s Mati says using moderate imams to neutralize potentially radical youths does not work because young people no longer regard them as credible. “It’s a generation gap – control over youths has somehow become difficult. In the old days, what an imam said went. The radical preachers are young,” he said.

Hadley Muchela, programmes manager for Kenyan rights group Independent Medico-legal Unit, says targeting violent extremism will require sensitivity because, thanks to the way the issue has been handled in the past, it is often seen as an indictment against all of Islam. “You find very few Kenyans willing to go into it,” he said.

Abdikadir Sheikh, who works with the Sustainable Support and Advocacy Programme, a local NGO, said the group has set up a pilot project to dissuade youth in the northeastern towns of Dadaab and Garissa from joining extremist groups.

“We are very careful or [we could] lose our lives; you can’t confront radicalization directly – you need different approaches,” he told IRIN. “We have established a strong team of more than 600 youths… some have so far joined colleges. We plan to work with the county governments.”
The ISS report warns that “there is no quick fix for the level of radicalization seen in Kenya”.

“The biggest threat to stability in Kenya will be if extremists succeed in dividing Kenya between Muslim and non-Muslim,” the report said.

jh/na/kr/rz source


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