EIGHT terror suspects have been arrested in Kenya as police intelligence revealed a possible planned attack by the Somali Al Shabaab militia group in Nairobi.
At least three suspected masterminds of the planned Easter attacks are said to be already in Nairobi where attacks were to be launched in selected public places over the festive weekend.
Al Shabaab has several grievances against Kenya, top on the list being the training of Somalia Government police and army officers in Kenya and the launch of attacks on the Al Shabaab by Ethiopian and Somali government troops from Kenya's territory.
Kenya Police on Thursday issued an alert warning there may be attacks in crowded places like churches and shopping malls in Nairobi this weekend.
Kenya was first attacked by terror bombers on August 7 in 1998 when militants linked to the al Qaeda network blew up the American embassy, killing over 200 people. This was followed by another attack at Kikambala in Mombasa targeting an Israeli-owned hotel in 2002.
There have also been several grenade attacks, including one last December at the boarding yard of a bus company that plies the Nairobi-Kampala route. The Kampala-bound passengers were boarding the bus in the evening when the grenade went off, injuring a handful of people.
On July 11 last year a businessman was killed by police in Ongata Rongai and several materials for making hand grenades found in his car. It was the same day terrorists attacked entertainment spots in Kampala with patrons watching the soccer World Cup final match.
Some 13 Kenyans including the Muslim human rights activist Al Amin Kimathi are still held in Kampala by the Uganda authorities over the attack. The Star yesterday established that police are questioning one Yusuf Salih Ali who was arrested in Liboi after he was found in possession of wires, gun powder and other accessories used in making hand grenades.
Investigations by The Star revealed that Ali had a Sudanese passport which according to North Eastern Provincial Police Officer Leo Nyongesa had not been stamped at the Namanga border point through which he is believed to have entered the country.
Internal Security Assistant Minister Orwa Ojode confirmed that police have mounted a search for the suspected three bomb plotters hiding in Nairobi and called on the public to report any suspicious characters.
Ojode said Kenya has sought support from security agencies of countries such as the United States in a concerted effort to fight any terrorist groups. Even Closed Circuit Television cameras are being used to ensure nothing is left to chance.
Ojode revealed that the suspects are foreigners working with dozens of co-opted Kenyan youth already trained in Somaliland by the Al Shabaab. "Police are trailing the suspected terror masterminds. They are three suspicious characters who may have entered the country through the porous borders and are now hiding in Nairobi," Ojode said.
Police Commissioners Mathew Iteere revealed the terrorists were targeting crowded places in Nairobi. "The places targeted include shopping malls, places of worship, government buildings and recreational areas," the police boss said. Other places said to be targeted are the bus stops within the Central Business District.
The management of businesses within the targeted areas, according to Iteere, have been contacted and advised to enhance security. Yesterday contingents of police in civilians clothes were on high alert in shopping malls in Karen, City Centre, Ongata Rongai, Thika Road, Westlands, Ngong Road, Nairobi West and Langata road. A police source said security agents believed the suspects were planning grenade attacks.
Eight suspects whose nationalities are yet to be determined are in police custody. They were arrested at the Kenya-Somalia-Ethiopia borders in the last two weeks. The recruitment of Kenyans into the Al Shabaab is said to be worrying the government as it makes the anti-terrorism war much more complicated.
An official within the Anti Terrorism Police Unit revealed that several suspects have been released after intelligence reports linking them to terror activities were found to be false.
The Star has established the National Counter Terrorism Centre has prepared reports on counter-terrorism in Kenya airports. Sources at the Counter Terrorism Centre said that Kenya was threatened by some foreigners who enter the country pretending to be in transit to other East African countries. "We have noticed strange movements of suspicious people into and out of Kenya, some who sneak in at the borders," said the official.
Nairobi police chief Anthony Kibuchi yesterday said police in Nairobi are on high alert and more officers have been deployed to patrol the city centre and the outskirts. Security vetting at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has also been tightened