20 March 2011
Share:Nairobi — On New Year's Eve, as Kenyans partied to usher in 2011, security agencies were having a nightmare. There was credible intelligence that terrorists were likely to strike at some party joints on the stroke of midnight.
The authorities had intercepted this communication, but they did not have the finer details. Two hours to midnight, a contact in the terror network called, saying an al-Shabaab strike was imminent.
The contact did not elaborate, but said that this was the message from one of the Mombasa-based overlords. A source in the police circles said they had learnt of the plot by midday on December 31.
Intelligence gathered by the police, the anti-terror squad and the CID showed that the al-Qaeda-backed Somali militant group had planned simultaneous attacks in:
- Uganda's Kampala,
- Kenya's Malindi and Mombasa,
- Burundi's Bujumbura
The targets in Kenya were said to be a popular casino in Malindi and two nightclubs in Mombasa. Without raising the alarm, security agencies maintained a tight vigil on these places.
Other prominent clubs and hotels in Nairobi and at the Coast were also put under increased surveillance. Somehow, Kenya survived.
According to an insider familiar with the recent terrorist activities in the Horn of Africa, the strategy used by the security agents was to make the militants aware that their plan had leaked.
They do this by identifying a fringe member of the group and telling him to pass the message to the leaders.
"That way, they panic and they can quickly change plans the way they did by bombing Kampala Coach in Nairobi (instead of a target in Kampala), after the Uganda authorities issued an alert and stepped up their vigilance," said the source who cannot be named.
Or they simply shelve the plan, the way they did with strikes planned at the height of the controversy surrounding the fiery Jamaican cleric, Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal."
Back to the New Year's Eve al-Shabaab plot. Uganda too, had put in place elaborate measures since the Kampala Coach attack on December 20.
The country has been on al-Shabaab's revenge list following its move to send troops to beef up the African Union peace-keeping mission in war-torn Somalia.
It was attacked on July 11, when an Islamist militant exploded bombs in two Kampala venues as soccer fans watched the finals of the World Cup being played in South Africa, killing 80 people and injuring scores of others.
- On December 29, three people suspected of being members of al-Shabaab were arrested as they attempted to enter Uganda from Kenya.
- But Burundi, also on al- Shabaab's revenge list because of the AU troops in Somalia, was unlucky.
- On New Year's Day, a grenade exploded in Bujumbura, killing three people and wounding three others.
- Army spokesman Gaspard Baratuza was quoted saying that another grenade went off at Buyenzi in the outskirts of Bujumbura. One person died and five were seriously injured.
For now, the threat of the al-Shabaab militants striking remains real within the region based on the porous border between Kenya and Somalia and the influx of refuge