Africa
3:00 am
Tue November 1, 2011

Somali Militants Vow Payback For Kenya's Offensive

Originally published on Tue November 1, 2011 9:28 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Yet another foreign army has sent its troops into Somalia.

INSKEEP: Many years ago, American troops took positions there.

MONTAGNE: More recently, forces from neighboring Ethiopia, with U.S. backing, have moved against Islamist groups.

INSKEEP: And now, another neighbor, Kenya, has sent in troops. The Kenyans say they want to drive out al-Shabaab, the powerful al-Qaida-linked militant group.

MONTAGNE: The militants are accused of slipping onto Kenyan soil to kidnap European tourists and aid workers. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Initially, it was not clear whether Kenya had Somalia's blessing for its military operation across the border, in hot pursuit of the al-Shabaab militants it claimed were responsible for the three kidnappings of aid workers and tourists.

Somalia's interim president said Kenya had not requested permission, and did not have the backing of his government. That position was swiftly contradicted by Somalia's prime minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali. He held daylong talks with Kenyan government officials yesterday, and told a joint news conference with Kenya's prime minister that both neighbors were on the same page.

PRIME MINSTER ABDIWELI MOHAMED ALI: There's no daylight between Somalia and Kenya in fighting al-Shabaab. We should have a unity of purpose, and we should work in tandem until this threat is eliminated from Somalia and from the Horn of Africa.

QUIST-ARCTON: Al-Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow Somalia's government. The Somali prime minister was at pains to stress that their forces, supported by African Union peacekeepers, were taking the lead in the offensive against al-Shabaab in the south, and that Kenyan troops were simply backing them up.

But Kenya's aerial and ground operation in Somalia is already causing a stir. Over the weekend, an airstrike hit a displaced people's camp in Jilib, killing five civilians and wounding dozens of others. Kenya denies it was responsible.

PRIME MINISTER RAILA ODINGA: Our troops are not targeting civilians. We are actually just targeting al-Shabaab hideouts.

QUIST-ARCTON: Kenya's prime minister, Raila Odinga, dismissed the claims.

ODINGA: The information we have is that that is just al-Shabaab propaganda.

QUIST-ARCTON: But the relief agency, Doctors Without Borders, says it's treating more than 50 survivors of an aerial attack. Gautam Chatterjee heads the agency's Somalia mission.

GAUTAM CHATTERJEE: We had 31 children, nine women and four men admitted to Marare Hospital with trauma injuries. Most of them had shrapnel wounds. And we had to refer four patients to Mogadishu. One of the patients died on the way, and one male admitted to the hospital also died, due to his injuries.

QUIST-ARCTON: Kenya blames al-Shabaab for the recent kidnappings inside Kenya, but the group has not claimed responsibility and says its neighbor used this as a pretext to invade Somalia. And Kenyan's military adventure has not come without repercussions.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

QUIST-ARCTON: This is an al-Shabaab hit song, and it begins with deafening gunfire. In the lyrics, the singer, Abu Zubayr, warns Nairobi and says: When we get to Nairobi, we will kill; we have powerful weapons.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

QUIST-ARCTON: That threat may already have become a reality. Last week, there were two grenade attacks in Nairobi, and another on the border. A young Kenyan man confessed to being an al-Shabaab member, and pleaded guilty to one of the attacks. He got a life sentence.

Security has been tightened, and eyes are trained on Somalis in Kenya, which says it will hunt down al-Shabaab sympathizers - wherever they are.

ORWA OJODE: Mr. Speaker, this is like a big animal, with a tail in Somalia.

QUIST-ARCTON: Orwa Ojode is Kenya's deputy internal security minister. He was speaking in Parliament.

OJODE: We are still fighting the tail. And the head is sitting here in Eastleigh, Mr. Speaker.

QUIST-ARCTON: Eastleigh is a Nairobi neighborhood, known as Little Mogadishu, which is home to many Somali-Kenyans and Somali immigrants and refugees. Now, while many Kenyans appear to support their government's action, many others are calling it a misadventure. They fear that Kenya's army may literally, at the height of the rainy season in Somalia, get bogged down in a never-ending war.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.