State needs to change counter-terror tactics

Garissa University students carry their belongings as they leave for destinations out of Garissa after attack by gunmen in their campus, in Garissa April 4, 2015. REUTERS/Noor Khamis
Garissa University students carry their belongings as they leave for destinations out of Garissa after attack by gunmen in their campus, in Garissa April 4, 2015. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

Two of my many friends around the world sent me these messages following the heinous Thursday terrorist attack in Garissa: “I am deeply saddened by the atrocious attack to a university in Kenya by al Shabaab, killing 147 students on the ground and wounding many others. In Turkey, we deeply feel the pain. We just had two of them this week. Although they were less deadly than what happened to your country, it is not the number of people killed, but the loss of life that counts... accept my condolences and feeling of solidarity with you.” — Esra Doğan Grajover, Ministry of Foregin Affairs of Turkey.

“I am so sorry to see the latest news on the attack in Garissa. It leaves you without words. I truly hope that there will come an end to this senseless violence soon.” — Anne-Chris Visser, Legal Officer, UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate.

Like my friends, I am terrified by the terrorist attack against young and peaceful Kenyans who represent the future of our country. The attack has exposed terrorist agenda that is aimed at destabilizing Kenya by introducing religious tension that could lead to interfaith conflict.

Aware of the terrorists' strategy, Muslim leaders applaud the Kenyan people especially the Christian leadership for their patience and understanding of the enemy’s agenda. Kenya is at war, and we must all stand together united to defeat the ill intentions of those against us.

Following the incident, Muslim leaders have joined the rest of Kenyans in condemning terrorism; organised a demonstration in Garissa; and joined relatives and friends at Chiromo mortuary to receive bodies of victims. Other planned activities include fundraising for burial and medical costs, blood donation drives and asking imams to counter violent extremist narrative responsible for the radicalisation of young people.

Muslim leaders stress that violent extremism or terrorism should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group. They affirm their support for security apparatus and call for personnel to be professional while discharging their duties. Law enforcement alone will not solve the problem and, when misused, can exacerbate violent extremism. Countering violent extremism is likely to be most effective when a partnership approach is taken involving law enforcement, intelligence agencies, other statutory organisations and communities with grassroots credibility.

Among issues that require quick attention from government include the question of Kenyan returnees, extra judicial killings of preachers and activists, disappearances and unaccounted persons claimed to have been “picked” by state security agents. These issues if left unaddressed form fertile ground for recruitment to terror organisations.

In order to rescue the Islamic religion from the “captivity” of self-seekers and self-righteous individuals and groups, the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims is mobilising highly educated and respected scholars to develop a counter narrative strategy based on true Islamic teachings and classical traditions. This initiative follows the recent county-focused dialogue forums that brought together local and faith communities, county and national governments as well religious leaders and opinion shapers aimed at bridging the information gap and responding to violent extremism issues at the community level.

When the country was faced with the Mungiki menace, it was easy for the police to deal with it because the sect did not change tactics — they remained a network with a consistent chain of command characterised by a stratified leadership structure. This made it easy for intelligence operatives to infiltrate and destroy Mungiki leadership, thus bringing the entire group tumbling down. However, when the terrorist networks that are known to operate in Kenya realised that intelligence operatives were infiltrating them, they either disbanded or suspended their network structures thus giving room for external coordination and command.

For these reasons, the government needs to keep on reviewing and changing its strategy because the same old tactics cannot be applied to terror networks. When dealing with a network, one can employ the approach of slaying the serpent—you cut off its head and the entire serpent is destroyed. But when dealing with “lone wolves” or “sleepers” under the command of international networks, a more diplomatic approach is required in order to weed out the numerous lone wolves that could be operating out there. And this is where the government needs a security strategy that constructively engages civilian institutions and individuals.

The government should, therefore, take seriously the approach prescribed by the UN Security Council Resolution 1373 of 2001 which emphasizes stronger national efforts, as well as bilateral and regional cooperation, to deny a safe haven to terrorists through information sharing and exchange of best practices. Given that the situation in Kenya is one which networks are “remotely controlled”, the government desperately needs a strategy where non-governmental actors can assist with addressing the socio-economic and ideological factors that breed violent extremism. This is a task that does not require a military approach; instead it needs constructive engagement with experienced and trusted non-state actors to chart an amicable solution.

This is also in line with the most recent White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, which emphasized that preventing the spread of violent extremism in different communities requires localised, specialised, and expanded efforts. It stressed on the need to adopt tailored approaches that are sensitive to local cultures and religious beliefs in order to effectively address violent extremism phenomena. This is an area where the Muslim leadership and organisations are required most.

The writer is the deputy secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.