Garissa shows ISIS inroads in recruiting youth

2015-04-05 21:16
A young girl rests her head on a pew during the emotion-laden service at the Our Lady of Consolation Church in Garissa, Kenya. (Ben Curtis, AP)

A young girl rests her head on a pew during the emotion-laden service at the Our Lady of Consolation Church in Garissa, Kenya. (Ben Curtis, AP)

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Garissa - One of the gunmen who slaughtered 148 people at a Kenyan university was identified on Sunday as the law-school-educated son of a Kenyan government official, highlighting the inroads Islamic extremists have made in recruiting young people to carry out violent attacks in the country.

Abdirahim Mohammed Abdullahi, one of the Islamic extremists who attacked Garissa University College, was the son of a government chief in Mandera County which borders Somalia, interior ministry spokesperson Mwenda Njoka told The Associated Press.

The chief had reported his son missing last year and said he feared that he had gone to Somalia, said Njoka. All four attackers were killed by Kenyan security forces on Thursday, said police.

Abdullahi graduated from the University of Nairobi with a law degree in 2013 and was viewed as a "brilliant upcoming lawyer", according to Njoka. It is not clear where he worked before he disappeared last year, Njoka said.

To prevent an escalation of Islamic radicalisation in Kenya, it is important for parents to inform authorities if their children go missing or show tendencies of following violent extremism, said Njoka.

The four gunmen entered the Garissa campus on Thursday and slaughtered students. It took more than 12 hours to stop the attack by killing the gunmen. Somalia's al-Shabaab Islamic militants claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was retribution for Kenya deploying troops to Somalia to fight the extremist rebels.

The news that one of the attackers was Kenyan, highlights the challenges faced by the government in preventing extremist attacks. The danger comes not only from neighbouring Somalia, but also from within Kenya.

Kenyans make up the largest number if foreign fighters in al-Shabaab, according to experts. Hundreds of Kenyan youths have trained with al-Shabaab and then have returned to Kenya, posing a major security threat, according to former police chief Mathew Iteere.

Kenya's government has said another source of instability is the refugee camps with more than 423 000 Somali refugees.

There are questions about the security response to the Garissa attack.

Police waited for seven hours before sending a special tactical unit into Garissa college to fight the extremist gunmen, Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper reported on Sunday. When the specially-trained police unit finally went into the college campus it took them only 30 minutes to kill the four al-Shabaab gunmen and stop the siege, said the paper.

The newspaper's front page article questioned why the interior minister and police chief were flown to Garissa from Nairobi before the tactical team.

Army barracks are just 500m from the college and military officers said they could handle the attack, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press. Only after three soldiers were killed did the army call in the police tactical unit, he said.

Before the attack on Garissa college, northeastern Kenya has had other attacks by al-Shabaab in which Christians were separated from Muslims and then killed. Christian college students were also separated and killed. Christians are questioning whether they should stay in northeastern Kenya near the border with Somalia.

In the wake of the attack, grieving Christians prayed, sang and clapped at an Easter Sunday service at a Catholic church in Garissa.

Security forces patrolled the perimeter of Our Lady of Consolation Church, which was attacked by militants almost three years ago. Grenades lobbed at the building sprayed shrapnel into the interior, injuring some worshippers. Another Garissa church was also attacked that day and 17 people were killed.

Sunday's ceremony was laden with emotion for the several hundred members of Garissa's Christian minority, which is fearful following the attack by al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based Islamic extremist group.

"We just keep on praying that God can help us, to comfort us in this difficult time," said Dominick Odhiambo, a worshipper who said he planned to abandon his job as a plumber in Garissa and leave for his hometown because he was afraid.

"Thank you for coming, so many of you," Bishop Joseph Alessandro said to the congregation. He said some of those who died in Thursday's attack would have been at the service, and he read condolence messages from around the world.

Alessandro said there has been an increase in insecurity because of al-Shabaab.

"You don't know who they are. They could be your neighbours," he said. A heavy security presence only helps up to a point and more intelligence on the militants is needed, he said.

Al-Shabaab warned on Saturday that Kenyans will face more violent attacks.

"No amount of precaution or safety measures will be able to guarantee your safety, thwart another attack or prevent another bloodbath," said al-Shabaab.

Following the extremists' threats, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta vowed to take harsh measures against the Islamic militants.

"We will fight terrorism to the end," said Kenyatta, who declared three days of national mourning in his nationally televised address.

Five people have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the Garissa attack, a Kenyan official said.

Read more on:    isis  |  kenya  |  garissa attack  |  west africa

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