UN warns Kenya’s terror threat growing as Nairobi is hit

Twelve people died and more than 70 others were injured in a bomb attack in Nairobi’s open-air Gikomba market on Friday.

The attack came just a day after panic spread through the international community, with Britain evacuating more than 600 tourists mainly from Mombasa and cancelling — immediately — all scheduled flights to bring in tourists until the end of October this year.

READ: British tourists evacuated from Kenya after terror threat

The Kenya Tourism Federation estimated the loss that will arise from the massive cancellation of tourist arrivals at Ksh5 billion ($56m) and accused the government of not taking adequate measures to deal with terrorism.

But President Uhuru Kenyatta, who spoke a few minutes after the twin explosions at the market, called on the international community to instead work with Kenya to tackle the fast-rising problem, which he described as a worldwide evil.

Four people were killed instantly and more than 70 were injured in the back-to-back explosions that ripped through the crowded open-air market shortly after 2pm, a few metres from Nairobi’s largest and busiest upcountry bus terminus, the Machakos Country Bus Station.

Eight more succumbed to their injuries at the Kenyatta National and Referral Hospital (KNH). Police said the blasts — two minutes apart — were caused by improvised explosive devices (IED) on a public service van.

READ: Ten killed in Nairobi twin blasts

Nairobi County Police Commander Benson Kibue said detectives were questioning two suspects arrested at the scene by the public shortly after the blast. “They were positively identified and they are in police custody,” he said.

Ironically, the blasts happened as President Uhuru Kenyatta was holding a press briefing at State House. The president dismissed the US and UK travel alerts as “unfortunate and irrational,” saying they will only increase fear and panic.

President Kenyatta said the aisories “give a misleading picture of our security situation,” adding that the Americans and the British did not share any intelligence with the Kenyan authorities on any impending threat. In its latest aisory, the British Foreign Office on Wednesday said all British nationals in Mombasa should leave the coastal city, cautioning them to “take care in public places where people gather, and exercise a heightened level of vigilance.”

“I personally asked our intelligence chiefs what they (the US and the UK) know that they don’tthey told me nothing that we don’t already know,” Mr Kenyatta said. “The misunderstanding and risk could have been avoided if the governments concerned had consulted more closely with us.”

The warnings have badly hit the tourism sector which is struggling to recover after a spate of small-scale attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa by extremists linked to Al-Shabaab.

“It is clear, regrettably, the terrorist threat in Kenya is growing at a rapid pace,” Edward J. Flynn, a senior official with the UN’s Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), said at the close of a three-day counterterrorism workshop at the UN Complex in Gigiri, Nairobi.

“Success in counterterrorism will largely be determined by the degree to which the state is able to forge enduring and strong partnerships with communities, especially faith-based groups,” said Mr Flynn.

Mr Flynn said the conditions that make young people vulnerable to extremism and violence ought to be addressed as a matter urgency, and added that the UN was willing to offer assistance to the Kenyan government in “rehabilitating” some of the young radicalized men recruited by terrorist groups.

Friday’s attack on a public service vehicle reveals an emerging trend in targeting public transport. Early this month two explosions in two buses on Nairobi’s Thika highway killed three people and injured scores.

As rescuers and security personnel were trying to make sense of the Gikomba blasts, President Kenyatta at the press briefing was answering reporters questions on the measures his administration is taking to stay ahead of the terrorists.

He said the much criticised police operation to flush out illegal aliens has been a success. “The operation has already removed thousands of illegal immigrants, and severely disrupted the networks of information and money which support radicalisation and violence.”

President Kenyatta also said the government has contracted the country’s biggest telecoms company Safaricom to provide communications and surveillance equipment and help install 2,000 CCTV cameras in Nairobi and Mombasa.

At the UN counterterrorism workshop, Mr Flynn said that the UN’s CTED was providing Kenya with “technical assistance” to boost the country’s “hard law-enforcement measures,” without going into the details. But he stressed Kenya could benefit from technical equipment in intelligence-gathering from its international partners.

The Kenya workshop is part of a broader push by the UN to promote the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1624, focusing on preventing incitement to commit terrorist acts and countering violent extremism.

The resolution adopted in 2005, urges member states to prevent terrorism by tackling emerging trends, such as the increased use of the Internet and other technologies to incite to commit terrorist acts, and conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.

According to Weixiong Chen, deputy executive director of CTED, terrorists take aantage of conflicts, ethnic and religious tensions, weak governments, poverty, and lack of options for young people.

“They are willing to go anywhere and do anything to recruit people and carry out their deadly plans,” said. “Terrorist groups operate like criminal multinational organisations and have a strong marketing plan,” Mr Chen said.

“We at the UN recommend a comprehensive approach that gives equal weight to prevention of and prosecution for terrorist offences, and takes into consideration what communities are going through. At the same time, the approach should counter the philosophy of violent extremism.”

“Education is one way in which a culture of tolerance and respect can be promoted. The media, along with community and religious groups, could also have an impact in countering the hateful narratives of violent extremists with messages of peace and understanding.”

Reported by Rashid Abdi, Trevor Analo, Zadock Angira and Thomas Kariuki.

SOURCE: The East African