By Haggai Matsiko
Security introduces new tactics after Nairobi attack
Ahmed Abdi Godane, the man believed to be the mastermind of the July 2010 Kampala bombing has been linked to the Sept.21 attack on a popular shopping mall in Kenya.
The Kenyan attack is said to bear the radicalised fingerprint of the 36-year old Godane aka Abu Zubeir or `the emir of al-Shabaab’ who is said to be among the most brutal among the leaders of the Somali militants.
Over 60 civilians were killed when armed terrorists brandishing heavy automatic weapons attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Analysts show that Godane has links with the global terrorist group, Al Qaeda. It is the most bloody terrorist attack in the region after the 1998 twin attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and the 2010 attacks in Kampala.
Al-Shabaab suicide bombers hit Kampala on July 11, 2010 killing 74 people watching the World Cup final at two different venues were killed.
Following that attack, the U.S. placed a US$7-million bounty on the elusive Godane for his alleged role in the attack.
Since the Nairobi attack security around major installations and public facilities in Kampala has been strengthened. Security chiefs have also been huddled in strategy meeting to avert a possible attack.
The main reason the Islamist gun men attacked the Westgate Mall, killing over 60 people, they said, was to revenge on Kenya for its onslaught on them in Somalia. They chose to strike now because they claimed they aimed for a time when Kenyan authorities least expected them.
Security on high alert
The Uganda Army Spokesperson, Paddy Ankunda told The Independent that the fact that the terrorists attacked Kenya, which like Uganda also has troops in Somalia means that Uganda has to be on high alert too.
“I mean two years ago,” Ankunda noted, “we experienced a terrible attack to, so this is very dangerous to us too and we are on high alert, we are not leaving anything to chance.”
More than Kenya, with about 6,700 troops, the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), is the main contributor of forces in Somalia and has been responsible for most of the thorough campaigns against the terrorist group in Somalia. It is no doubt that such credentials put Uganda on the terrorists’ radar.
Ankunda, however, noted that terrorist threats are mainly an internal security issue and that the Police is the lead organ. “But the army comes in to assist when the situation is intense,” the UPDF spokesperson added. Ankunda cautioned that people, who are in the habit of expecting full proof security, need to realise that security starts with them.
“People have to be vigilant,” he said.
Sheikh Abulaziz Abu Muscab, the al-Shabaab military operations spokesman boasted on the international TV station, Aljazeera, that they had ensured they attacked Kenyans when they were least expecting it.
“Our aim is to attack our enemy when they least expect us to attack,” the terrorists spokesperson reportedly said.
The militant’s spokesperson also said they had attacked the Westgate shopping mall because it brought together tourists, diplomats and Kenya’s decision-makers.
The biggest worry now is that although Ugandan security operatives are combing public places including shopping malls like the one that was attacked in Nairobi, the terrorists might wait until normalcy returns. Unfortunately for most of Ugandans, normalcy is laxity.
Information which has gained prominence since the Nairobi attack claims the man behind it, Godane, is anxious to take the al-Shabaab jihad beyond Somalia because his hold on the local group is shaky.
Divisions in al-Shabaab
Analysts say that in a region where clans play an important mobilising role, Godane who is from the northern Isaaq clan is sitting on a throne of straw because most of his fighters belong to a different clan, the Rahanweyn of southern Somalia.
Godane is said to belong to the most radical fringe of the al-Shabaab. Some information circulated widely alleges that one month after the Kampala attack, the slain leader of Al Qaeda Osama bin Laden, wrote to Godane cautioning him to go slow on his attacks.
Bin Laden advised the young, aspiring global jihadist not to harm too many Muslim civilians in his attacks on Amisom, the African security mission in Somalia, suggesting he should “review this matter”.
“Remain devout, patient and persistent in upholding high moral values … towards the community”.
The letter dated August 7, 2010 was allegedly found in the former al-Qaeda leader’s compound after his death. The Independent has no way of verifying these claims. The declassified document was among 17 published by the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point, the US military academy.
Osama bin Laden reportedly rejected a request for a formal alliance between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab because he considered Godane to be too “radical and hot-headed”.
Just this June, Somali websites that cover the activities of al-Shabaab were awash with stories of how Godane committed a bloody purge in the top ranks and consolidated his grip on the group.
In a single clash in Barawe, a coastal city in the south of Somalia, fighters loyal to Godane reportedly killed two co-founders of Al-Shabaab, including his former deputy and longtime friend, Ibrahim Al-Afghani, and chased away Hassan Dahir Aweys and Mukhtar Robow, the former spokesman for the terror group.
Al-Afghani, Aweys and Robow had reportedly complained about Godane’s authoritarian tendencies and the heavy-handed approach in dealing with foreign jihadists.
The conflict erupted after Godane on April 26 reportedly attempted to kill an American jihadist and Alabama native called Omar Hammami who had publicly criticised Al-Shabaab.
Robow, the man Godane kicked out is from the Rahanweyn clan and had been a major leader of Al-Shabaab since its formation a decade ago.
According to a major report on Godane in the UK newspaper, the Guardian, his attacks on foreign fighters such as Omar Hammami could also make it difficult for al-Shabaab to attract global fighters.
The Nairobi attack followed insistent al-Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu, including one on a UN compound.
However, while publicly these attacks can be viewed as an al-Shabaab show of force, security experts say they are in fact a sign of a weakening group that can only attack soft targets and kill civilians.
Information Minister, Namayanja Rose Nsereko, condemned the attack that she described as “barbaric, primitive and cowardly”.
She said it was a “misguided act of desperation designed by evil elements to divide the people of Kenya and break the country’s resolve and to support the Global anti-terrorism fight and the on-going UN stabilization Mission in Somalia”.
If this is why the terrorists hit Nairobi and why they chose this time, then Uganda is no doubt in the line of fire, experts say.
Security experts warn
David Pulkol, the former Director-General of Uganda’s External Security Organisation (ESO), says that given that this enemy is more complex, Uganda’s security authorities need to be “thoroughly and consistently preparing for them”.
“This enemy operates in what is called the sleeper cell system, they camp in an area, do their homework, they are not in a hurry and strike when they are ready” Pulkol told The Independent, “This makes them tricky to deal with.”
Pulkol adds that in order to deal with this enemy, those in security and intelligence need to focus on deeper penetration in terms of intelligence gathering, building networks and tracking them.
“We also need to assess the likely methods of these enemies and our intelligence needs to follow them consistently and persistently to avoid surprises because once they carry out the attack,” Pulkol says, “then at the level of intelligence, you have failed.”
But even after the attack, Pulkol says, the security players need to be ready with skills on how to counter them.
“Who have we trained for these kinds of operations, what are the enemy’s likely targets, do we have their architectural drawings, how are we ready to work with other institutions to neutralise such attacks?” Pulkol asks giving pointers for security authorities.
“We have trained officers who can carry out these operations like the Black Mambas but are they doing rehearsals on how to rescue hostages in case a school, a market, parliament, a mall or any other public place is attacked?” Pulkol asks.
He says that although the UPDF is picking very important skills to address things, the Uganda security needs to draw lessons from the Nairobi attacks.
The former spy chief adds that this attack shows that the enemy’s psychology and methods have changed as they are now using things like hostage taking, home-made explosives and knives. For the Ugandan security officers to measure up, Pulkol calls for reinforcement in the counter-measures of the terrorists’ new techniques.
Despite the 2010 twin attacks, security in Kampala is often only beefed up whenever there are intelligence reports about a likely terror attack. Yet ever since Uganda made the move to send troops to Somalia, the country is constantly under the terrorists’ radar.
With the Nairobi attack, the terrorists have even taken their game a notch higher. For most of the time, security has been relying on intelligence tracking movements of likely bombers and bombs. At public places and functions guards are always looking out for bombs and other explosives.
However, in the Kenyan attack, which has been described as highly organised, explosives were secondary. The machine gun wielding militants attacked a shopping mall, besieged it and started killing people.
U.S intelligence experts reportedly said the attack on the Westgate Mall might be an indication that the group is now focussing on regional attacks after losing power and territory in Somalia.
Given that shopping malls litre Kampala, her suburbs and even upcountry towns, the list of likely targets is endless. And unlike with bombs, guns are much easier to transfer and wars in Southern Sudan and DR Congo have increased the proliferation of guns. The terrorists can easily acquire them.
That is why the latest attack in Nairobi means that the Ugandan security has to work even harder and be more sophisticated.
Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, has moved to beef up security in public places. In his drive, he told reporters, police was going to take over the security of many of these places.
He noted that the Nairobi attack signalled what threat terrorists were and cautioned those who take security alerts for granted.
Going forward, Kayihura has also noted that owners of buildings will have to put in place the requisite security measures or face the wrath of the law. Owners of security companies, he noted, will lose their licences if their guards are not well trained.
But the real test for Kayihura and all Ugandans is in how long these measures and the vigilance drive can be sustained because the terrorists will always look out for and celebrate even the slightest indication of laxity.