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Lamu insecurity: How it all started

An Armoured Personnel Carrier that ran over an Improvised Explosive Device planted by suspected Al-Shabaab militants in Lamu killing seven policemen and a civilian on May 31, 2017. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The insecurity situation in Lamu began way back in 2011 when a British tourist was abducted by suspected Al-Shabaab militants from Kiwayu Village Resort in Lamu East.

As a result, Kenyan forces were deployed on the border and inside Somalia under ‘Operation Linda Nchi,’ whose sole objective was to seal off any entry points for gangs on the border and prevent any militants from crossing into Kenya after it was established that they were using porous border zones to get into the country.

Since then, Lamu County has had constant and numerous attacks, the worst case being that of the terror attack in Mpeketoni on June 15, 2014.

Over 100 people were killed by Al-Shabaab militants and property worth millions destroyed in Mpeketoni, Hindi, Kibaoni, Witu, Baure, Mangai and Basuba that year.

MANY ATTACKS

The happenings prompted the national government to launch a multi-agency security operation dubbed ‘Linda Boni’ whose major objective was to flush out Al-Shabaab militants believed to be hiding inside the dense Boni forest.

The introduction of the Linda Boni Operation ushered in a new ray of hope for the Lamu residents who thought that cases of Al-Shabaab attacks and attempts would be a thing of the past.

They felt they were safe to walk around, believing that they were being protected while doing so.

Despite the existence of the operation which is led by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers in cooperation with various units of the National Police Service (NPS), it is unfortunate that many attacks are still being witnessed with many lives being lost at the hands of Al-Shabaab criminals who have literally turned Lamu into a playground where they walk around freely and launch attacks and raids at will.

50 ATTACKS

The unfortunate thing is that the number of Al-Shabaab attacks and attempts before the Operation Linda Boni was launched and thereafter seem to have doubled compared to times when there wasn’t any operation in Lamu.

So far the number of Al-Shabaab attempts to the area in 2015 to date number to over 50 times.

It should be noted, that at first, the Boni forest seemed to be the worst affected since the Al-Shabaab militants and their families are believed to be hiding there.

Police reports however indicate that most of the recent attacks by Al-Shabaab were carried out in places which are outside the operation zones, meaning that the terror group is now moving from the volatile Boni to areas which are least expected to be affected by insecurity.

The Milihoi attack where at least three people including security officers and civilian were killed on Thursday, for example, is outside Linda Boni Operation areas.

The matter is the same with Jima and Poromoko areas where nine people were killed by Al-Shabaab last week.

Such occurrences have even led to Lamu leaders and locals to question the effectiveness of the Operation Linda Boni with many of them calling on the government to re-strategize the entire operation.

Lamu Governor Issa Timamy says it is unfortunate that Kenyans in their country are being attacked by people from neighbouring country and who sneak to come and cause havoc, create fear and despondency, more particularly on Lamu residents.

PUBLIC APPEARANCES

He says despite the Linda Boni Operation making little achievement, it is high time that the government heightens its operation to secure all Kenyans.

Two years since the operation was launched, the Governor says it is surprising that officials can still confirm Al-Shabaab terrorists have been making public appearances in various places in the county.

“I can say to a great degree that the Operation Linda Boni has been successful since we have enjoyed peace for some time.

“The Al-Shabaab are however coming up with new ways of planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) on our roads.

“For the past two months or so, we have lost a number of our security personnel and civilians to these bombs planted on our roads by Al-Shabaab. We need to up our game in order to meet any threats which can affect our people,” said Mr Timamy.

FAILED OPERATION

On her side, Lamu Woman Representative Shakilla Abdalla criticised the Operation Linda Boni saying it has totally failed in its mandate to deal with the Al-Shabaab menace in the county.

Ms Shakilla says the operation has been unable to flush out Al-Shabaab militants believed to be hiding inside the Boni forest.

She says the county continues to be on the receiving end of the militia group since the operation was commenced with many security officers and civilians losing their lives due to the menace.

She says Al-Shabaab attacks and raids have become rampant and that it is hard to understand why that’s the case, when the national government was spending money on the Linda Boni operation which doesn’t seem to bear any positive fruit.

SHOW ACHIEVEMENTS

She has dared the government to come clean and tell Kenyans what the Linda Boni has so far achieved since the security of the county was still very fragile.

“The operation has been in place for over two years and each time the government says it’s a success. Where is the success when the Al-Shabaab still strike at will and kill our people?

“How successful is this operation when locals have to flee from their homes and stay in camps. How successful is the operation when schools have to be shut down and teachers pulled out due to insecurity.

“It’s high time we really know exactly what Linda Boni is all about after all the government is spending a fortune on it,” said Mr Shakilla.

WALK ON FOOT

According to Ms Shakila, Lamu has the highest number of security personnel and units compared to any other county in the country.

She wondered why the region still remains at the mercy of Al-Shabaab militants who strike and leave at will.

On his side, Alex Gitonga, a resident of Mpeketoni said the militants move around on foot and by road and wondered why the numerous police checks erected on the roads have not been able to apprehend and stop them from entering the county in the first place.

“We are aware that these guys don’t use planes. They come on foot and by road. The police are always on these roads. What happens and how do the militants find their way into Lamu in the first place? As Kenyans we need answers. We have a right to understand what’s happening,” said Mr Gitonga.

NEW TACTICS

A top security officer in Lamu who talked to the Nation on condition to remain anonymous since he is not authorized to speak to the media said most areas like Milihoi, Pandanguo, Jima, Kaisari, and many other places are more targeted by the militia due to the poor road and mobile phone networks.

He went ahead to say that Basuba, Baure, Milimani, Mangai, Mararani, Ishakani and Kiunga border are also key areas targeted by Al-Shabaab unlike any other places in the county due to the proximity of the areas which are located closer to the Kenya-Somali boarder and which make it easy for the militants to cross in and out of Lamu as they wish.

“We are trying our best but these militants are targeting areas with poor network since they know these places can allow them to do their evil without even being noticed fast,” said the officer.

NOT FAILED

Contacted, however, Linda Boni Operation Director James Ole Seriani dismissed claims that it had failed.

Instead, he said the national government will not relent in its effort to crackdown and end the Al-Shabaab menace in Lamu’s Boni forest.

Mr Seriani said that in the recent days, Al-Shabaab militants have decided to come up with new ways of attacking citizens and security with intention of hiding in Kenya after they were overpowered by KDF soldiers in Somalia.

He said the introduction of the Operation Linda Boni in 2015 had greatly contributed in conquering the Al-Shabaab militia since all routes that were earlier being used by Al-Shabaab to cross to Lamu to attack citizens had been sealed off by the forces conducting the operation.

SEALED ROUTES

“We have sent enough officers in Boni forest in addition to the already existing ones. Our intention is to have all criminal elements hiding in the dense Boni forest eliminated.

“Despite the attacks and attempts being experienced in Lamu, we are confident of winning the war on Al-Shabaab.

“So far we have managed to seal all routes used by the group and what they are doing is enough indication that the militants are desperate. We will hunt and eliminate them from the forest,” said Mr Seriani.

This comes at a time when more than 30 people including security officers have been killed in Lamu within the last two months.

ATTACKS AND DEATHS

On May 31, this year, 10 security officers and a civilian were killed when a vehicle they were travelling in ran over an IED at Baure along the Hindi-Kiunga road.

On June 28 this year, eight people including four police officers and four pupils were killed when a lorry they were traveling in ran over a landmine at Ota area on the Mararani-Kiunga road.

On July 6, four police officers were killed when a group of over 200 suspected Al-Shabaab militants invaded Pandanguo Police station in Lamu West.

On August 6, 2016, four police officers were injured during an attempted attack by suspected Al-Shabaab militants who tried to force their way into the Basuba General Service Unit (GSU) camp in Lamu East.

On July 14, 2016, a suspected Al-Shabaab terrorist was killed and a police officer injured when a group of over 20 heavily armed Al-Shabaab militants attacked the Mangai Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU) camp in Basuba Ward of Lamu East Sub-County.

On July 10, 2016, 14 GSU officers survived narrowly when suspected Al-Shabaab militants blew an IED to their vehicle at Baure in Lamu East. No injuries were reported.

On June 14, 2015, over 60 Al-Shabaab militants raided the Mangai village at around 3am and torched over 100 mattresses at the Mangai Boarding Primary school, an administration block and a motorbike belonging to the Mangai Dispensary.

They then proceeded to the Baure military camp where they attacked and killed two soldiers.

More than 11 Al-Shabaab terrorists were however killed in the incident.

On July 13, 2015, four women and a baby were killed when Al-Shabaab attacked a police vehicle at Omollo Bridge, just 10 kilometres from the Bar’goni military camp.

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