High alert as al Shabaab strike US-Kenya military camp in Lamu

Militants stage daring raid on Kenya-US military base in Lamu

In Summary

• Five militants gunned down while five others arrested in raid on US-Kenya Simba Airbase and Manda Airstrip About nine Kenyan and US aircraft were destroyed. Kenya says it swiftly repulsed the attackers.

• Experts say Kenya is perceived to be very close to the US, making it vulnerable to attacks.

Thick smoke billows following al Shabaab attack on Camp Simba KDF-US military base in Lamu on Sunday. . Manda Airstrip was hit.
SHABAAB RAID: Thick smoke billows following al Shabaab attack on Camp Simba KDF-US military base in Lamu on Sunday. . Manda Airstrip was hit.

Al Shabaab militants on Sunday staged a daring dawn attack on a Kenyan-US military base in Lamu as tension heightened globally following a deadly feud between America and Iran.  

On Thursday last week, a resurgent al Shabaab attacked a bus convoy near Lamu and shot dead four people. 

The terror attack on Sunday was repulsed by soldiers and at least five attackers were killed during a fierce fire exchange at Simba Airbase containing the Manda Airstrip. The. The search for more bodies was underway 

Five Shabaab suspects were also captured, KDF said.

Soldiers also recovered one  PK machine gun, four rocket-propelled grenades, four AK-47 rifles, one hand grenade and assorted ammunition.

Lamu county commissioner Irungu Macharia said the five are being interrogated by security agencies and are believed to be among the group that raided the base.

There was no report of US or Kenyan deaths. There was no immediate report of injuries. 

However, a confidential police report seen by the Star shows that at least two fixed-wing aircraft, two US helicopters and several US vehicles were destroyed at the Manda Airstrip.

Also destroyed were two Cessna aircraft — one belonging to the Kenyan army and the other owned by the US.

Sources at the camp said a suicide bomber first attempted to get into the camp before blowing himself up just outside the gate after 4am. Then the rest of the militants arrived in batches.

Al Shabaab has used the same suicide bomber tactic to gain access at DusitD2 hotel complex in Nairobi on January 15-16, 2019, and at the El Adde base in Somalia on February 15, 2016. 

Intelligence reports have identified the bomber as Malik Ali, alias ‘White’.

The attack is believed to have been orchestrated by hundreds of al Shabaab militants who regrouped before the dawn attack. Cells of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants are believed to have been involved.

A statement by the KDF spokesperson’s office said the attack started at around 5.30am as the militants attempted to breach security at the Manda Airstrip. Then the suicide bomber blew himself up.

Residents saw billowing clouds of smoke, gunfire and heard loud explosions.

The KDF statement said the smoke was from a fire that broke out after some of the fuel tanks at the airstrip were hit during the exchange of gunfire.

It said: “This morning at around 5:30am an attempt was made to breach security at Manda Airstrip. The attempted breach was successfully repulsed. Four terrorists' bodies have so far been found[later a fifth]. The airstrip is safe. Arising from the unsuccessful breach a fire broke out affecting some of the fuel tanks at the airstrip. The fire has been put under control and standard security procedures are now ongoing,” read the statement.

This is was the second attack in less than one week in Kenya for which al Shabaab has claimed responsibility.

On Saturday, militants attacked a convoy of buses at Nyongoro area in Lamu West and killed four people.

On the same day, a resident reported seeing a group of wounded al Shabaab militants at Kilelengwani area near the border of Lamu and Tana River.

About 10 men all had gunshot wounds on various parts of their bodies and their clothes were dirty and bloodied, the resident said.

The men were  reported to have been speaking in fluent Kiswahili and asked if residents could get them medical attention without raising alarm

The man said, however, he wasn't in a position to help them. They released him on condition he wouldn't reveal their presence to security agencies.

“I was chopping wood when I stumbled upon a group of about 10 men who were all injured on various parts of their bodies. Some were bleeding profusely. They asked me to help them and I told them I couldn’t. They told me to go but said they would come and kill me if I sold them out to security. I reported the incident anyway,” he said.

Thick smoke billows during al Shabaab attack on Camp Simba KDF-US military base in Lamu on Sunday. Manda Airstrip was hit.
SHABAAB RAID: Thick smoke billows during al Shabaab attack on Camp Simba KDF-US military base in Lamu on Sunday. Manda Airstrip was hit.

There is tension in the affected areas and those people nearby worry about other possible attacks.

The Sunday al Shabaab attack came just two days after the US killed Iranian Quds Force commander General Qassem Soleimani with a drone strike in Jordan.

Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful commander and head of elite Quds Force, was killed in a strike ordered by President Trump at Baghdad airport on Friday.

US Vice President Mike Pence Saturday said Soleimani was a terrorist who plotted attacks and said Kenya was one of the targets.

Nairobi, one of Washington’s allies in the war on terror, hosts the biggest diplomatic mission on African soil and routinely collaborates with the US on counter-terrorism measures.

Since 1998, Kenya was targeted by terror groups opposed to US intervention in Somalia and to its ties with US and Israel. KDF soldiers captured by Shabaab have pleaded with Kenya to exit Somalia. 

There was no link yet reported between the Soleimani killing and the latest al Shabaab attack in Kenya.

Al Shabaab is a Sunni Muslim group and there is no sign of links to Shiite Iran or its proxies.

“No, this attack was no way related to that incident” in the Middle East, an al-Shabab spokesman told the Associated Press on Monday.

For the better part of the weekend, Kenyans on social media aired their safety concerns after Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned of "harsh revenge" on US bases around the world. US diplomats too could be targeted. 

Thick smoke billows following Shabaab raid on Simba US-Kenya miligary base in Lamu on Sunday. Manda Airstrip was hit.
SHABAAB RAID: Thick smoke billows following Shabaab raid on Simba US-Kenya miligary base in Lamu on Sunday. Manda Airstrip was hit.


Kenya has often found itself in crosshairs of attacks related to global geopolitics.

In August 1998, almost simultaneous bomb attacks at US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed 224 people and left more than 5,000 injured, in attacks ordered by al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, in May 2011.

In June 2012, two Iranians, Ahmad Abolfathi Mohamed and Sayed Mansour Mousavi who were suspected to be members of Quds Force were arrested by detectives as they were allegedly planning to bomb Israeli Embassy, the British High Commission and US Embassy in Kenya.

They were arrested with a 15-kilogramme stash of explosive RDX.

The two are serving 15-year terms at Kamiti Maximum Prison.

Iran ambassador to Kenya Hadi Frajvand left the country in early 2019 diplomacy failed to secure their release.

In September 2015, Kenya launched Operation Linda Boni to flush al Shabaab militants from their forest hideouts and push them back across the border to Somalia.

Security agencies have proclaimed the operation largely a success and said major terror threats have been neutralised.

It is also building a barrier to keep al Shabaab from crossing over. 

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