What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Getting to the core of al-Shabab’s conflict with Kenya

Read the Full Transcript

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    It has been two months since al-Shabab Islamic militants targeted the university in Garissa, Kenya. A nation made up of more than 80 percent Christians, it was the Christians that the Islamic militants were after, sparing the lives of students they believed to be Muslims.

    Cedric Barnes is the Director of the International Crisis Group in Nairobi and an expert on al-Shabab.

  • CEDRIC BARNES:

    They knew that the people there would be mostly the people that are a long way away from home and probably, largely, predominantly Christian. So it was very deliberate it was very cynical.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    147 students were killed, shot, or hacked to death. Among the dead—19 year old Bilha Gitau. This is her family's home outside Nairobi. A simple building on a small plot of land. This is her father, Godfrey.

  • GODFREY GITAU:

    When I heard about the attack I was worried, he says. I tried calling her but there was no answer.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    He still struggles to understand …why?

  • GODFREY GITAU:

    These people are not right he says. My daughter was killed just because she was a Christian. I don't understand why they are doing this.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Al-Shabab, "the youth" in Arabic. Somalia's version of al-Qaida, a group to whom it has pledged allegiance. They are a hardline Islamic group preaching extremism, fighting for power in Somalia, at war with neighboring countries.

    Fuad Shongale is a key al-Shabab ideologue alleged to be responsible for a series of terror attacks inside Somalia.

  • FUAD SHONGALE:

    Only when we fight the unbelievers can we be honored, he says. If we do not fight them we will not be honored.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Anarchy erupted in Somalia after the fall of the government in 1991 and the Islamic Court Union, a group of autonomous courts formed along clan lines, managed to restore a fragile peace in Somalia after years of inter-clan fighting. But eventually that fragile peace broke down and al-Shabab emerged.

    Most Somalis practice a more moderate form of Islam—Sufism—and supported an initiative to form a transitional national government, completely contrary to what al-Shabab wants— to the way al-Shabab thinks.

  • CEDRIC BARNES:

    So they all believe that they are performing their Islamic duty by fighting and that they are going to create a better society, an Islamic society by undertaking armed jihad.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    In 2006 predominately Christian Ethiopia sent in its soldiers to help the Transitional Government, forcing al-Shabab from the capital Mogadishu to its strongholds in Southern Somalia.

    But al-Shabab used the foreign intervention as a rallying point to attract supporters. It is funded by Somali individuals in the diaspora, other terrorist organizations, kidnapping and piracy.

    As al-Shabab attacks continued, African nations including Kenya sent in troops that pushed al-Shabab back to the countryside. The group responded by making Kenya a target. Even today, al-Shabab continues to use foreign interventions to appeal to Somalis and specifically to Muslims.

  • CEDRIC BARNES:

    It's saying, we are defending you Muslims. You happen to be Somali, but we are defending you Muslims from these interventions that come from unbelievers.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    In some areas under al-Shabab's control the lawlessness ended–electricity was restored and public works projects were restarted. But the strictest form of sharia law was also imposed–at odds with the way most Somalis practice Islam.

    Even though al-Shabab continued to lose ground—they did not lose the ability to launch attacks. It has assassinated transitional government officials, bombed government ministries, carried out suicide attacks against soft-targets—hotels—in Mogadishu. And the attacks have also gone beyond Somalia.

    The Westgate mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya in September of 2013 was carried out with murderous efficiency—the al-Shabab gunman storming the mall killing 62 people and injuring 127. Witnesses said Muslims were spared—non-Muslims were executed.

    Kenya's President, Uhuru Kenyatta tried to console a stunned nation. Kenyatta's own nephew was killed in the attack.

  • UHURU KENYATTA:

    Terrorism in and of itself is the philosophy of cowards.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Kenya struck back shelling al-Shabab targets in Somalia. Internally, Kenyan police and security forces intensified operations in areas where many of Kenya's ethnic Somalis live. Homes and mosques linked to suspected radicals were raided.

    Cedric Barnes says it was a very focused, very intense government campaign against Kenya's Somali community.

  • CEDRIC BARNES:

    So you've had assassinations, you've had arrests, you've had people being deported and you've had general harassment.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    The government denied extra judicial assassinations but the official line has been clear—the crackdown is part of a necessary, pre-emptive counter-terrorism effort.

    When the April attack in Garissa came the loss of so many innocents tore at the heart of Kenya—and grief turned to shock when it was revealed that three of the four attackers might have been Kenyans, and not ethnic Somalis.

    President Kenyatta appearing on TV again—this time to deliver the sobering news that the threat is also 'homegrown.'

  • UHURU KENYATTA:

    The planners and financiers of this brutality are deeply embedded in our communities and were seen previously as ordinary harmless people.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Kenya shares a long border with Somalia that starts inland, runs past Garissa, right down to the Indian Ocean.

    Mombasa is about 250 miles from the Somali border. It is the main city on the Kenyan coast. It is predominantly Muslim. Al-Shabab is extremely active here and it is recruiting young Kenyans.

    Unemployed, disillusioned, angry at the way they feel the government sometimes treats Muslims.

    Abdul—not his real name—is one of them. He says some of his friends have joined al-Shabab and he says he may too.

  • “ABDUL”:

    "By living here its like, there's no hope of life. When you go there you will have your career going on because you will be highly trained. You will be given financial, even marriage. Your life will be so good.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    He says Westgate and Garissa were carried out for revenge—because of Kenya's involvement in Somalia.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Do you believe in it or are you against those attacks?

  • “ABDUL”:

    Those attacks…they do those attacks but those attacks were done intentionally to show the power of al-Shabab that they can do anything that they want.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    We tried to speak to families who believe their sons have gone to Somalia but it was difficult because of the level of mistrust.

    Hussein Khalid is Executive Director of Haki—a Muslim human rights organization.

  • HUSSEIN KHALID:

    Families fear that if they speak out maybe they would be considered as traitors by you know al-Shabab. Families also fear that if they speak up then probably the government will come for them in the guise of looking for their relatives.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    This woman agreed to an interview but didn't want to reveal her identity. She says her son joined al-Shabab in Somalia in 2012. She says he was killed last year. The circumstances around his death are unclear.

  • UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN:

    It is terrible. Al-Shabab is brainwashing young people, not doing a good thing. I lost hope when my son joined them. I knew it was over for him.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    The father of Bilha—one of the 147 murdered in Garissa- lives with his lost hope everyday. His daughter's grave is in the nearby field. One small monument to a nation's war with al-Shabab.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest