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Somali militants moving into Kenya, official says - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Somali nationals (L–R) Hussein Hassan Mustafah, Adan Dheq, Liban Abdullah Omar and Mohamed Ahmed Abdi, who are charged with offenses related to September's terrorist attack on Westgate Mall that killed at least 67 people, appear in court in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)

Somali nationals (L–R) Hussein Hassan Mustafah, Adan Dheq, Liban Abdullah Omar and Mohamed Ahmed Abdi, who are charged with offenses related to September’s terrorist attack on Westgate Mall that killed at least 67 people, appear in court in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)

Nairobi, AP—Dozens of foreign fighters have defected from the Al-Qaida-linked militant group in Somalia due to internal disputes, and many of those men have moved into Kenya, a security official said.

Since early last year Kenyan security officials have observed movements by people suspected of being part of Al-Shabaab in Somalia, said a senior police official who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

Al-Shabaab and other militants are under increased scrutiny in Kenya following the September 21 grenade-and-gunfire attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, an attack that killed at least 67 people.

The trial of four suspects arrested in conjunction with the mall attack opened in a Nairobi court on Wednesday. Two prosecution witnesses described how the mall came under attack by four gunmen.

Infighting between Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane and other top militant leaders who support the inclusion of foreign fighters in the group has left the foreigners being “mistreated and mistrusted,” the official said.

The foreigners include recruits from Western countries and some information about their movement into Kenya was provided by security organs of their home countries, he said.

Al-Shabaab boasts several dozen American and European members, mostly men of Somali heritage.

Authorities worry the foreign fighters who fled Somalia will form their own groups to carry out attacks, the official said.

Matt Bryden, the former head of the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea and a top expert on Al-Shabaab, said the migration of foreign fighters into Kenya also includes Kenyan members of al-Hijra, a Kenyan cell of Al-Shabaab sympathizers or fighters that Godane trusts.

Although Kenya remains relatively accessible to jihadist groups, and is rich in potential targets for terrorist attacks, it is unlikely to serve as a base for such groups, Bryden said. He noted that some analysts believe Al-Hijra may have played a role in the Westgate attack.

Even as that original crop of foreign fighters seems to be fleeing, other African recruits from countries like Tanzania and Uganda are heading to Somalia, said Musa Yego, the chief of criminal investigations in Kenya’s Garissa Country, which borders Somalia.

Already this month police intercepted six men between the ages of 18 and 25 from Tanzania and Uganda headed for Somalia, said Yego.

“They had visas which showed they are on a business trip and on being interrogated they claimed they are heading to Somalia to invest there,” Yego said. “We asked them on how they can head for a war zone to invest there. These are among many youths being recruited to join the militants there.”

Kenyan authorities arrested 60 men from Kenya traveling to Somalia in 2013, he said.

Godane, Al-Shabaab’s leader, has had a falling out with several formerly influential Al-Shabaab leaders. Four militant commanders were killed in June, including two co-founders of the group, while its spiritual guide, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, fled for his life and was captured by Somali forces who are holding him in Mogadishu.

Last year, an American who joined Al-Shabaab, Alabama native Omar Hammami, was ambushed and killed by rivals. Hammami had used Twitter to accuse Godane of being a dictator.

Godane, though, appears to be in firm control. It was Godane who announced in 2012 that Al-Shabab was allying itself with Al-Qaida.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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