There were 12 terrorist attacks in northeastern Kenya in May, more than in any month over the past four years. All were almost certainly mounted by Al-Shabaab militants.
There were 12 terrorist attacks in northeastern Kenya in May, more than in any month over the past four years. All were almost certainly mounted by Al-Shabaab militants. This increase in the number of terrorist incidents appears to be part of a campaign by the Somalia-based group to target Kenya ahead of a general election in August. Such cross-border attacks are likely to remain frequent at least until the poll. But in our analysis, a large-scale attack in a major city outside the northeast is not a particularly likely scenario.
The most widely-reported incident last month was a bombing that targeted a convoy carrying the governor of Mandera county on 17 May. That incident was one of three in the last month that occurred near the El Wak border crossing in Mandera. Six of the 12 attacks in May took place near the town of Liboi in Garissa county. There were also two incidents in the north of Lamu county. All but two of the attacks – one against a phone tower and another against quarry workers – targeted the security forces or government officials. As with the attack against the governor of Mandera, most used small explosive devices concealed on roadsides.
Al-Shabaab released two propaganda videos in mid-May in which the group threatened Kenyan soldiers in Somalia as part of the AMISOM mission, accused African Union troops of committing ‘war crimes’, and mentioned the upcoming Kenyan election. The videos did not contain any direct threats against the election and instead showed footage of previous Al-Shabaab assaults against Kenyan soldiers in Somalia.
Given Al-Shabaab’s long-standing opposition to the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia, we think that the recent videos and the campaign of attacks are probably both attempts by the group to influence Kenyan policy on Somalia. While the incumbent president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has committed Kenya to keeping its troops in Somalia until at least 2020, the main opposition candidate in the upcoming poll, Raila Odinga, has said that he would withdraw the troops immediately if he is elected.
Al-Shabaab controls large amounts of territory along the Kenyan border, and most of the border is poorly patrolled. This means that militants can cross into Kenya to mount attacks relatively easily. Our current terrorism threat level for the border areas of Kenya is critical. Elsewhere in the country, we assess that the threat is moderate, meaning that there is a reasonable possibility of an attack occurring. But improvements in the capability of the security forces to detect and disrupt plots mean that we do not think a highly coordinated large-scale attack, like the one at Westgate Mall in 2013, is a particularly likely scenario before the poll.