Thursday, July 23, 2009
HULUGHO, Kenya — A thin, dusty line is about the only thing separating Kenya, one of the Western world’s closest allies in Africa, from the Shabab, a radical Islamist militia that has taken over much of southern Somalia, beheading detractors, stoning adulterers and threatening to kill any Americans or Europeans who get in their way.
A Kenyan police officer stood along the Somali border. Some fear the Shabab might infiltrate Kenya and attack Westerners.
In most places this line, the official international border, is not even marked, let alone protected. In the village of Hulugho, there is simply a tattered Kenyan flag and a cinderblock schoolhouse with chicken-wire windows. Then a meadow of thorn trees and donkey dung. Then Shabab country.
Kenya is widely seen as a frontline state against the Islamist extremism smoldering across the Horn of Africa. Few expect the Shabab to make good on its threats to march en masse across the border. But the creeping fear, the one that keeps the security staffs at Western embassies awake at night, is that the Shabab or its foreign jihadist allies will infiltrate Kenya and attack some of the tens of thousands of Westerners living in the country, possibly in a major strike like Al Qaeda did in 1998.
Last month, Western counterterrorism experts in Kenya sent out text messages warning expatriates to stay away from malls in Nairobi, Kenya’s usually laid-back capital, because of possible suicide attacks by the Shabab. A few weeks later, the group threatened to destroy Nairobi’s “tall, glass buildings.”
The Shabab has already penetrated refugee camps inside Kenya, according to camp elders, luring away dozens of young men with promises of paradise — and $300 each. It has carried out cross-border attacks, kidnapping an outspoken cleric in May from a refugee camp 50 miles inside Kenya. Last Wednesday, in one of its boldest cross-border moves yet, a squad of uniformed, heavily armed Shabab fighters stormed into a Kenyan school in a remote town, rounding up all the children and telling them to quit their classes and join the jihad.
“If these guys can come in with their guns and uniforms in broad daylight,” said one of the teachers at the school, “they must be among us.”
Then on Saturday it happened again: Somali gunmen, widely believed to be with the Shabab, stormed the offices of an aid organization and kidnapped three aid workers from a Kenyan border town before melting back into Somalia.
American and British advisers are working closely with Kenyan counterterrorism teams, but the area along the Somali border is known to be a gaping hole.
-Jeffrey Gettleman :: The New York Times :: July 21, 2009
I have seen war.
I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives.
I hate war.