SECURITY - Al Hijra, the Kenyan affiliate of the Somali terror group Al Shabaab, believed to be the group's link to the other East African affiliates, is trying to make its mark in Islamic extremism. The group is accused of masterminding a campaign of terror against Christians in the country.
Al Hijra terror cell members are believed to be orchestrating a campaign to radicalise the youth and goad them against what they consider to be an anti-Islam campaign across East Africa.
The UN Monitoring Group of July 2013 first made public the existence of the Al Hijra, a name that suggests opposition to the illegal rendition of terror suspects to other territories, which means the act of abducting individuals and handing them over to another country, without following the laid out extradition procedures.
Several suspects were arrested in Kenya and rendered to Uganda to face trial for the Kampala terror attack in 2010. There are also arrests going back to 2007, in pursuit of Fazul, then Al Qaeda East Africa commander. Those arrested include Fazul's family members.
Meanwhile, the UN Monitoring Group report revealed a US government-funded plan to disrupt the Al Hijra activities, including the killing of senior Muslim clerics affiliated to the group.
The killing of Aboud Rogo on 27 Aug. 2012 sparked a week-long chaos in Mombasa, at the end of which the Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the violence.
Al Hijra previously operated as the Muslim Youth Centre. This group pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda.
While extent of Rogo's ideological involvement is not clear, he openly preached against Christianity, referring to Christians as infidels.
His killing immediately led to the burning of churches, including the Salvation Army church in Mombassa, and the killing of Christian leaders.
Death threats were also issued to to Christian church leaders: “Be prepared, we are coming for you.”
In early Oct. 2013, the Salvation Army church was again attacked after the killing of Muslim cleric Ibrahim Amor. Four other churches in the locality were also burnt.
Leaked intelligence reports accused the members of the Al Hijra terror cell of attempting to drag Kenya through an economic crisis by crippling tourism, a major foreign currency source, through the kidnapping of tourists.
Sources told PANA that the military intelligence, which remains much more active in neutralising threats, managed to squeeze much of the information about the Al Shabaab’s attack plans from a Kenyan combatant who deserted the group after the fall of Kismayu, Al Shabaab’s former stronghold.
The deserter led the military operatives to the Mombasa homes of some of the Al Shabaab’s spy agents, who were executed.
The information obtained from the operations later led to the discovery of truckloads of materials used in the production of explosives as it was driven towards Somalia.
Security analysts consider Al Hijra to be part of a coordinating terror cell.
In Kenya, the group is believed to operate within crowded slums, especially in Majengo slums in Mombasa, the coastal city, in Nairobi and in some schools.
Kenyan counter-terrorism trainer Mwenda Mbijjiwe believes terrorist operations such as the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, which killed 67 people and wounded 200 others, could be the work of a number of internationally-known terror cells, acting as one unit for maximum impact.
'This attack (Westgate) was one of the most successful terror attacks in the whole world. There is a likelihood that a number of terror cells came together to mount a one off-attack. There is the Al Qaeda cell in Europe. This is why you hear of big names like Samantha Lethwaite, the Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, there is the localised wing of the Al Shabaab. It is possible all these networks came together for a one off, powerful, bigger attack,” said Mbijjiwe.
Kenya will be less prepared for similar attacks, if the terror groups such as the Al Hijra were to plan similar strikes, even if the authorities were properly warned, Mbijjiwe said.
Lethwaite’s name featured prominently during the Westgate attack after survivors cited a white woman as the leader of the killer gang that stormed the upmarket mall on 21 Sept. 2013, shooting indiscriminately at anyone on sight.
Together with Jermain Grant, the two were accused of plotting and executing attacks in Mombasa. Grant, who was acquitted of terror charges days before the Westgate attack and later rearrested for falsified identification documents, is said to have admitted to being a member of the Al Qaeda Terror Cell in East Africa, but not the Al Shabaab.
In the meantime, the Kenyan security operatives continue their fight against the continuing threat of radical Islam.
In most cases, Muslim youth being rallied to the defence of their brothers elsewhere flock to the Musa Mosque in Majengo, the home of Rogo, to get the message.
“We are ready to listen to them,” said Joseph Kitur, the Mombasa Police Commander. “But they have to stop this violent protests. This is not normal. Someone is using these youths to do all this, we cannot continue like this. We are working for them. They should come forward and tell us their grievances.”
News Analysis by Kennedy Abwao, PANA Correspondent