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Big Game: U.S. Soldiers’ Secret Hunt for Jihadists in a Kenyan Forest

AMERICA’S SHADOW WARS

Big Game: U.S. Soldiers’ Secret Hunt for Jihadists in a Kenyan Forest
The United States is waging secret warfare around the world. The operations in and around Kenya’s Boni National Reserve on the Somali border are some of the most mysterious.

MARGOT KISER

02.08.17 9:03 AM ET

A short, bloody raid by U.S. Special Operations Forces on an al Qaeda base in Yemen in the second week of Donald Trump’s presidency was a fleeting reminder to the world that Americans are engaged in secret and not-so-secret wars around the globe. But most of the action is not as dramatic as the Yemen attack in which a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed, an 8-year-old girl died, and a $70 million aircraft crash landed and had to be destroyed. All that took place in the space of a couple of hours. But most of these wars are long grinds fought far from prying eyes in close cooperation with local forces that often are notorious for torture and other human rights abuses. And nowhere have those fights gone on so long, or in such obscurity, as in Africa. This is the first of an occasional series that will shine some light into those shadows.

 

LAMU, Kenya—Tucked into the northeast end of the country’s coast, the Boni National Reserve is a fairy-tale paradise, a resplendent ecosystem packed with elephantine baobab trees and hydra-headed doum palms. This mix of riverine forest and swampy grassland is home to some of the country’s largest herds of game, and to rare species like the wild dog, Somali lion, and reticulated giraffe.
There are no rhinoceros left here, but Doza Diza, 66, talks about seeing kifaru often. The safari word for rhino has been re-purposed by the locals as a name for the armor-plated Humvees whose machine-gun mounts recall the animal’s distinctive horn.

Tall, gaunt, and with a bad eye, Doza Diza wears a traditional Somali sarong and a Muslim skullcap. He describes himself as a former county councilor and crab fisherman.
These motorized rhino can be distinguished by color, he says. The dark green ones are vehicles operated by the Kenya Defense Forces, KDF, he tells me. Those painted the color of sand belong to the Americans.
Doza is an elder of his tribe, the Awer (also spelled Aweer). They are hunter-gatherers who seek out honey by following birds, talk to crocodiles and hippos in tongues the beasts are said to understand, and generally stick to their ancient way of life. The Awer are also Muslims, which is highly unusual among the world’s few remaining stone-age peoples.
They’ve long inhabited the Boni forest region, but slowly and surely their way of life is being stripped from them. Subsistence hunting was banned in Kenya in the 1970s, so any meat the Awer procure is illegal. Poverty further marginalizes them. And now the tribe is caught in the crossfire of the global war on terror.
***
How will the new administration in Washington deal with this and other semi-clandestine wars being waged by the United States around the world? Donald Trump has a penchant for former generals, with Michael Flynn, a longtime U.S. Army intelligence officer as his national security adviser, and retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, a veteran of counterinsurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, who is now secretary of defense. Trump’s close advisor Steve Bannon also fancies himself a brilliant armchair general. But Washington is a long way from the Boni forest and the very special sort of battlefield it represents.

As The New York Times reported in October and November the United States has been escalating the “shadow war” inside Somalia with “the potential for the United States to be drawn ever more deeply into a trouble country that so far has stymied all efforts to fix it.”
The Times, quoting unnamed “senior American military officials,” estimated that “about 200 to 300 American Special Operations troops work with soldiers from Somalia and other African nations like Kenya and Uganda to carry out more than a half-dozen raids per month.” And it outlined a program in which private contractors employed by the U.S. also play a significant role.
But the shadow war inside the failed-state borders of Somalia is almost transparent compared to the activities here on the ill-defined edge of that war. There is a long history of countries on the fringes of conflict being sucked into war themselves, the most notable example being Cambodia during the Vietnam debacle. Whether Washington will help prevent such an outcome—or provoke it—is an open question.
***
The area in and around the Boni National Reserve is one of many places in Africa where American personnel are deployed with little fanfare and, indeed, as secretly as Washington’s representatives and proxies can manage.
Repeated and detailed queries to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) for clarification of the American role here on the frontier between Kenya and Somalia were answered this month with a brief response explaining why not even a background briefing was possible: “As these operations are currently ongoing, and have elements of U.S. special forces assisting, we cannot comment at this time due to operational security reasons.”

A major part of the mission those U.S. special forces are “assisting” in this part of the continent is, in fact, to hunt down and kill members of the Somali group known as al-Shabaab who threaten Kenya’s security and, through the group’s close relationship with al Qaeda, are believed to threaten America’s as well.
The counterterror and counterinsurgency forces operating in the region would like the Awer to help them track the Somali guerrillas and terrorists. But that project is not going well in an operation reminiscent of many sorry histories around the world where local tribes and minorities have been instrumentalized, abused, and very often abandoned.
U.S. Special Forces (Green Berets), other Special Operations Forces of various stripes, State Department officials, the inevitable slews of American contractors, and spooks and commandos from countries with close ties to the United States, including the Brits, Israelis, and Jordanians, have all deployed here in an undeclared if not unmentioned U.S.-backed war.
Kenya’s government and its international partners—the heavyweights being the U.S. and the U.K.—are desperate to make this region safe for engineers, imported skilled workers, and, yes, tourists. But the current intense counterterror focus has been a slow build, and not hugely effective. For the moment, anyone who ventures into the Boni forest risks getting blown up by an IED.
Indeed, as if mocking attempts by the Kenyan government to establish the forest and its coast as a destination resort, al-Shabaab released a recruitment video in 2015 boasting about the bountiful game in the forest provided by Allah to sustain jihadi fighters.
One ranch with a tourist concession that had been a haunt of jet-setters and celebrities (Kristin Davis, one of the stars of Sex in the City, had been a guest) found itself converted into a haven for al-Shabaab sympathizers in 2014. They stole food and medicine then torched the facility’s guest huts.
There is a long and bloody history behind such incidents, which we’ll look at in a subsequent installment of this series. But the short history has been the stuff of fleeting headlines for more than five years.
In October 2011, Kenya sent troops into Somalia. Since then al-Shabaab has carried out massive retaliatory hits on targets in Kenya resulting in more than 300 deaths.
Kenyan officials believe that after the spectacular 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi that killed at least 70 people, al-Shabaab retreated from Kenya’s urban areas and melted into the dense Boni forest—which sits on the coast, right on the country’s north-south border with Somalia and adjacent to what was once a Somali national park.
Officials say another massacre, the 2014 Mpeketoni attack, which left 48 dead, was staged from within the forest, and that the Garissa University attack of 2015, which left at least 148 dead, was organized within the enormous Dadaab refugee camp nearby (which the Kenyan government plans to shut down, further displacing more than 300,000 people).
Jaysh Aman, the al-Shabaab cell in the forest, reportedly was comprised of some 300 fighters in 2015, but its numbers certainly vary.
Following the Westgate attack (which was later the subject of an extraordinary HBO documentary) national and Western forces were in an all-out scramble to protect Kenya from further cross-border terrorism. After the Garissa attack, Kenya asked the U.S. and other Western nations for more and better assistance.
According to human rights groups, the counterinsurgency tactics that accompanied the build-up of U.S. assistance have featured mass police sweeps, arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and summary executions targeting not only al-Shabaab suspects, but alleged sympathizers and Muslim communities generally.
In October 2015 the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR) released a report documenting disappearances and killings of residents and suspects along the Somalia border and the Kenya coast. Worshippers were grabbed as they left mosques and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers allegedly shot dead cattle herders, most of whom are Muslim, in east Kenya (PDF).
During President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya in July of 2015, he stepped into the fray, allocating $100 million for the Kenya Defense Forces for weapons, materiel, and vehicles. The allowance was a 163 percent increase in counterterrorism assistance over the previous year. Among Kenya’s purchases: a Boeing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle—a drone—at a price of $9.8 million. Each year since 2012 the Kenyan government has asked for security assistance from the West.
The most recent installment—approved by the State Department days after Trump’s inauguration, but still not through Congress—is a $418 million package that includes crop dusters converted for low, slow, high impact attacks targeting people on the ground.
The extent to which the Trump administration will continue or cut back economic assistance in Africa is unclear, with some reports suggesting those funds will be reduced. In one of several pointed queries the Trump White House sent to the State Department it said bluntly, “We’ve been fighting al-Shabaab for a decade, why haven’t we won?” But such questions offer little hint of a new strategy, apart from efforts to shore up Fortress America at its frontiers. Somalia was one of the seven Muslim majority countries whose citizens were banned temporarily by Trump’s controversial executive order.
Obama’s theme was known as “the 3-D approach” to the region’s conflicts—defense, diplomacy, and development. And in the two months following his historic visit to the land of his father, Kenya’s government announced that a “multi-agency” security force had been assembled to carry out counterterror measures against al-Shabaab.
The force consisted of paramilitary units within Kenya’s police, Kenya Defense Forces special forces, and various state agencies, including the National Intelligence Service, Military Intelligence, the Kenya Wildlife Service and Forest Service—all trained by Western police units and special forces.

***

On Sept. 11 of 2015, Kenya formally launched “Operation Linda Boni” (Linda Boni being Swahili for “protect the Boni”). The goal set a two-month timetable to drive the insurgents from the forest. It is still going on.
The first stage of this effort was cordoning off the Boni forest as a collection of “no-go zones,” and evacuation of all residents. Those who remained would be regarded as al-Shabaab sympathizers.
This branded the Awer, Kenyan citizens, as the enemy.
Security officials contend that Somali fighters have taken up residence, with their wives and children, deep inside the Boni forest.
Doza Diza and other Awer leaders say that is true.
They say al-Shabaab has coerced them into providing shelter in mosques and schools, logistical support, chiefly in the form of food and medicine, and have forced tribespeople to track game for them.
But the Awer also are quick to say that violence and threats against them come from both sides in this conflict.
Kenyan officials claim that Somali attackers burned the huts of the Awer, while the Awer say that Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) burned those shelters in an effort to force them to comply with the evacuation.
Doza reports that guerrillas took his people’s food and issued warnings not to reveal their whereabouts to Kenya security, “Otherwise, we’ll deal with you.” Aside from this, he notes, the insurgents are polite. “Al-Shabaab rob from us, but they don’t beat us or grab our land—the way Kenya forces do.”
Linda Boni has not only run long beyond its planned two-month timetable, it has extended far beyond the forest and its region into much of northeast Kenya.
In the process it has become apparent that the KDF’s counterterror tactics involve more than eradicating the al-Shabaab presence in the forest.
By the end of 2015, the KDF announced it was expanding its area of deployment into neighboring counties along the Somali border and south some 200 miles, to the Tana River, constructing additional police stations and military camps. The Baragoni camp on the southern fringe of the Boni-Dodori National Reserve expanded its area to 800 acres of ostensibly public land.
Kenya is building a 435-mile Western-funded security wall at the nation’s eastern border. On a visit to Kenya last year, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a big fan of walls in the Holy Land and in the U.S. as well, committed funds to the project. Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta reportedly has suggested building a terrorist-only prison facility within the Boni forest.
Land grabs in northeastern Kenya are nothing new. In the ’80s the Kenyan government seized land during a counterinsurgency operations against ethnic Somalis inhabiting the area. Now locals—ethnic Somalis and Muslim communities generally—suspect that military expansion is an excuse to take more land in and around an area where the Kenya government, the Chinese, and several multinational companies have plans for an oil-related infrastructure mega-development.
The KDF concedes that the forest is a national reserve but insists it is gazetted as government land, not communal land.
Doza suggests that the only power able to help his people stop the abuses is the U.S. government—the people behind the people in the “rhinoceros” Hummers.
Since the Westgate attack, the KDF base at Baragoni has grown from a temporary camp to a permanent one, and by 2015 Kenya had deployed enough of its troops there with sufficient transport to foil a Shabaab attack aimed at destroying the Baure camp, which is 36 miles north of the Baragoni base.
(In that action a year and a half ago the KDF killed 11 militants, including an British man named Thomas Evans who’d been dubbed “the White Beast” in U.K. tabloids. The KDF paraded his corpse—along with others—in nearby Mpeketoni, where counterterror operations are headquartered. The British press subsequently posted video that appears to show the nighttime engagement filmed the day he died.)
But the reach of the Baragoni base stretches far beyond a few satellite camps.

***
Swaleh Msellem, a Swahili resident of Lamu Island, manages a petrol station at the Mokowe jetty a few kilometers across a channel on the mainland. Msellem, now 30, told me how one morning he’d docked his boat at the jetty where at least a dozen non-uniformed men, whom he claims were with the paramilitary wing of Kenya’s National Police Service, had been waiting for him.
Someone pulled a hood over his head and tossed him into a vehicle. Familiar with the area and its roads, he said he could tell he was driven some 40 kilometers away to the Baragoni military base, where he was detained in a shipping container and tortured.
Some of the techniques used on him were repeated mock drownings (a variation on waterboarding) and crushing of testicles. These were done, he said, to extract a confession that he planned a deadly attack in the nearby village of Hindi, soon after the Mpekatoni massacre. He denied this. The interrogators asked where the weapons were that were used for the attacks. “Which weapons?” he answered.
The KDF continued to grill him, insisting he had information. He told me that during that detention he was driven from Baragoni to an area nearby where he witnessed the execution of two al-Shabaab fighters by a firing squad. One afternoon he complained of feeling ill. Guards took him outside to a pond where he vomited. Through his loosened blindfold he was able to glimpse crocodiles on the berm of the pond.
Why were crocodiles being kept inside a military base, he wondered.
Msellem said soldiers later threatened that he’d be fed to the crocodiles like others had been if he didn’t cooperate. After two weeks he was transferred to the port town of Mombasa, to the south, and held several months at the infamous Shimo La Tewa prison in a wing reserved for terrorists. Msellem eventually was taken into court, where he was acquitted of all murder and terror-related charges for lack of evidence.
When I interviewed Msellem, he was grimly philosophical. Although he did not see or talk to any U.S. personnel, as far as he knew, he had no doubt they played some role behind the scenes. “The Americans are very complicated, aren’t they? On the one hand they are helping us by building roads, dispensaries, schools, but they also seem to want to kill us.”
In that one observation Msellem summed up the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the “3-D approach to U.S. Foreign Policy”: defense, diplomacy, and development.
A human rights report from the government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights documents the abuse of Msellem (PDF), but does not cite it as having taken place in part (or at all) at Baragoni.
I spoke with Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, about the possibility of suspects being thrown to the crocodiles. He said he’d interviewed a local who was one survivor among four al-Shabaab suspects thrown in the Tana River behind a military camp. But as it was a single source he couldn’t report it. “This is Kenya—anything can happen,” he said.
For information from inside the Baragoni base, I spoke with a man who identified himself as a Western-trained Kenyan Special Forces soldier serving with one of the SF battalions. (Photos of him clad in fatigues and standing with fellow soldiers in a garrison in Somalia would seem to confirm his identity.)
This soldier described to me the process of “enhanced interrogation”—torture—used at Baragoni military base. He confirmed that people were detained in shipping containers, but said he hadn’t heard anything about suspects being thrown to the crocodiles.
He said that sometimes the National Intelligence Service detains and interrogates suspects at the nearby Manda Bay navy base. “But they [NIS] don’t force you to say anything,” he told me. “When you’re brought to Baragoni you’re forced to talk.”
According to a map I was shown and was able to examine at length, the Baragoni base is operated by Kenya’s Directorate of Military Intelligence.
It would seem prisoners taken in action have little hope of survival. “If there’s been direct engagement [with al-Shabaab] we capture them and they’re taken to Baragoni,” said the same soldier. “If they don’t have any useful information then they are being killed. Those that give information or say where the weapons will be are shot dead.”
By the time the soldier’s deployment ended, he said, several dozen detainees remained in the shipping containers with partitions. Former detainees and a law enforcement official said that as recently as July 2016 there were as many as 16 containers, each housing at least six prisoners.
The soldiers said some suspects were ferried by helicopter to an especially inaccessible area inside the Boni forest, where they were shot dead. Hunters from the Awer report finding human remains where they collect honey.
***
In November 2015, a Lamu resident I see often told me that Lamu County’s government was organizing a baraza—a meeting—between Awer elders and government representatives from Nairobi, to enable the tribespeople to voice complaints about the KDF’s actions. The baraza was to take place at a restaurant on the mainland. I decided to crash the event.
When I arrived near the entrance of the restaurant there was quite a crowd milling around. At least three dozen Kenyan soldiers and police stood guard, blocking the road to the venue. At the cordon, I observed uniformed military personnel, mostly white, driving sand-colored armor-plated Humvees, those that Doza Diza had called “kifaru.”
Officers on the ground were armed with what KDF personnel identified as U.S.-manufactured FN SCAR automatic assault rifles, a very high-tech killing machine capable of firing 625 rounds a minute. Indeed, they are the U.S. Special Operations Command’s newest service rifle. German, Belgian, and Japanese special forces also reportedly used this gun. Kenya reportedly is the only African nation where the U.S. has issued this type of weapon.
In addition, representatives of the Red Cross and Safari Doctors were on hand for the Mokowe meeting but had until recently been barred from the Boni forest altogether.
Also on hand were personnel with U.S. Civil Military Affairs, the guys who handle the hearts-and-minds component of counterinsurgency, building on experiences in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Central America. CMA is a key part of the Linda Boni effort focusing on wildlife and indigenous peoples. It sees to the building of the latrines, the roads, the schools, and medical dispensaries while “denying sanctuary” to insurgents.
Through USAID Civil Military Affairs has partnered with the Kenya Wildlife Service and rangers with wildlife conservation NGOs. KWS training is funded by USAID, and, after the 2013 Westgate attack, its rangers have been trained by Maisha Consult.
The only people present at the meeting who were up front about their identities were KDF officers, whom I spoke to on arrival. One guarding the perimeter identified himself as a GSU officer, referring to the paramilitary wing in the Kenya National Police Service. I asked him whether I could attend the meeting, shortly after which a blonde-haired blue-eyed uniformed soldier returned.
I explained I was a writer researching the Awer’s predicament.
“Are you an American?” he asked. I handed him my tattered U.S. passport. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said with an engaging smile, and left promising to return to let me know whether I could attend the baraza.
Others present, also heavily armed, wore civilian clothing—Dockers, polo shirts, and wraparound sunglasses. The locals refer to such armed Western personnel in casual wear as “sport sports.”
One source, within the U.S. government, preferring to remain anonymous, identified these figures as a U.S. Diplomatic Security Service contingent protecting American diplomats at the baraza.
I never did gain access. (Media outlets associated with the Kenyan government had been invited; international press had not.) Awer leaders who spoke at the meeting, including Doza Diza, said they were eager to tell the U.S. representatives they no longer wanted to deal directly with the KDF or Kenya government because those entities had failed to make good on promises of land compensation.
Locals told me that the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, had given each tribal elder 4,000 Kenyan shillings (about $40) to attend, and provided meals and transport.
As part of counterinsurgency strategy, such meetings are supposed to help build local security forces, legitimize local government, and ultimately delegitimize the insurgents. But as long as the locals believe the government is stealing their land, meetings are unlikely to have much of a legitimizing effect. And meanwhile the fighting continues.
A former U.S. Army colonel with long experience in civil affairs, who did not want to be named, added another layer.
“Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is a relatively lean organization and continues to rely on contracted support for administration, logistics, operations, intelligence, and physical security,” he told The Daily Beast. “Think the old Blackwater and Executive Outcomes.”
It’s not uncommon to hear about U.S. Special Forces on the ground in fragile states like Somalia and Iraq, but seeing them in a sovereign democratic state—Kenya—seemed unusual.
U.S. military presence in Kenya had been sparse until the 9/11 attacks. “Boots on the ground” in Kenya was practically unheard of. In Somalia it also was virtually nonexistent for more than 20 years after the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993.
But clearly all that has changed.
—with additional reporting by Christopher Dickey
follow the author on Twitter @margotkiser1
NEXT: HOW DID WE GET HERE?

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/02/08/big-game-u-s-soldiers-secret-hunt-for-jihadists-in-a-kenyan-forest.html

Giveaways That Al-Shabaab’s Video Of The Battle Of El-Adde Was Staged

On Sunday, April 3rd, Al-Shabaab’s media wing released a recruitment video showing the militant group’s January 15th raid at a Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) camp at el-Adde, Somalia. It was the deadliest attack on an AMISOM mission to date, killing 100-200, 12 were reportedly taken hostage. KDF has yet to release any casualty figures to the public.

After viewing the video I contacted a military source – let’s call him ‘Dave’ – and asked him what he thought. Dave is a former KDF soldier, who has on several occasions engaged in battle with Al-Shabaab in Somalia. He is also a keen observer; his opinion is that much of the footage showing fighters approaching the KDF was staged i.e. filmed almost entirely on Saturday the 16th, the morning after the initial siege.

Here’s why:

  • Early reports indicated that three Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED) had exploded inside the camp on Friday morning, January 15th. Dave thinks the explosion shown in the video is only one VBDEID which they detonated the following morning – but captured from different angles – to give the impression of several successive explosions. Use of split screen   would indicate the same.IMG_2382
  • KDF apparently had received photos from Friday morning’s attack  that showed deceased soldiers laying on a road outside the camp. The al-Kataib video shows only soldiers who’d been killed inside the camp, perhaps to underscore the military’s lack of preparedness. The Somali National Army (SNA) camp was co-located with the el-Adde camp 600 meters away. As Dave tells it the SNA had been tipped off of an impending attack. When the fighters arrived they fired several rounds near Somali National Army (SNA) camp as warning shots for occupants to evacuate. The shots also served as a decoy to lure KDF soldiers out of their camp into the “killing area”. Dave concludes that al-Shabaab probably killed a number KDF soldiers outside the camp as they tried to reinforce soldiers en route to the SNA camp. By midday, several hours after the attack, it was clear to al-Shabaab that KDF reinforcement from Nairobi headquarters was not coming, so they “extricated” (military parlance for withdrawing). They may have mingled with locals and the next day returned to the KDF camp –  now itself a kill area – to crush the remaining soldiers. A good portion of soldiers may have been killed inside the camp the next day. This means the camp was overrun on Saturday, not Friday.
  • Dave noted the fighters were not advancing toward the camp in a tactical formation; indeed, they appeared at times to be casually strolling through open grassy fields not expecting engagement. Al-Shabaab are foreign-trained and would never move around a battle field this way. IMG_2431
  • The film doesn’t show any return fire from the KDF camp, which is unlikely and for that reason would have been difficult to edit out. Not a single al-Shabaab militant appears in the video wounded or dead. Clearly al-Shabaab suffered casualties. Presence of bloated corpses indicates some soldiers were killed Friday morning but filmed the next day — corpses usually don’t bloat within the first few hours of death.
  • There were way too many Al-Shabaab fighters with phone cameras filming the attack. Dave notes that al-Shabaab consists of hundreds of professionally foreign-trained fighters who wouldn’t be caught dead in a battle field with cameras in hand.IMG_2410

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On a final note Dave said Commander, Major Geoffrey Obwoge, was probably killed the second day. It appeared he was trying to repulse the enemy in an APC, along with the gunner and driver. One of the tires had been shot, caught fire (explaining the billowing black smoke) and the commander was unable to continue. As a commander he’d have been among the last men standing. If he was afraid in his final moments, it didn’t show. He stood his ground. The el-Adde camp was under-manned and under-equipped: the commander did not fail his company. Rather, KDF head quarters in Nairobi failed the company at el-Adde.

 

 

 

U.S. President Barak Obama’s trip to Kenya, July 2015

  

  
  
 

President's Cadillac called The Beast
President’s Cadillac, ‘The Beast’
Kenyan Security Personnal , left, and U.S. security peraonnal, right secure the area at Kenytta International Airport before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, arrives in Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday, May 3, 2015.  Kerry is visiting Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Djibouti on his trip. (AP Photo/SAyyid Azim)
Kenyan Security Personnal , left, and U.S. security peraonnal, right secure the area at Kenytta International Airport before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, arrives in Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday, May 3, 2015. Kerry is visiting Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Djibouti on his trip. (AP Photo/SAyyid Azim)
Obama in Kenya wtmk -1  
  
    

   

   

   

   

    

 
 
  

 

Al-Shabaab’s New Video Warns Of More Attacks in Kenya

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 NAIROBI – Al-Shabaab’s media wing, Al-Kataib, released a video yesterday, “Itakuwa”. The 30 minute video contains surprisingly few gory photos and focuses almost exclusively on the militant group’s Kenyan emir, Ahmed Amin Ali. He explains to a group of uniformed fighters (and potential recruits watching the video) why the group carried out the deadly attack last month at el-Adde, a Kenyan military camp in Somalia.
Initially Al-Shabaab claimed to have killed 100. One month on the Kenyan government has yet to divulge the official death toll. A source close to the Kenya Defense Forces said that DNA samples were taken  from the remains of 143 bodies recovered at the scene, adding that 58 had survived.
The translator I chose is a former KDF officer from western Kenya, who fought on the front lines against al-Shabaab in Somalia soon after Kenya’s invasion in 2011. He now works for a private security company in Nairobi.

The following translation is interpretive and not word-for-word. For the sake of clarity, I refer to a translation provided by the al Qaida-allied Global Islamic Media Foundation, via the Long War Journal. During the emir’s lecture the militants shouting “Allah Wakbar”. My translator detected their accents were neither Somali nor coast Kenyans, but belonging to “upcountry” Kenyans. While Amin Ali lived in Nairobi’s Majengo area, he speaks fluent and traditional Swahili typical of Kenyan and Tanzanians from the Kenya coast. He uses words such “Nusura” – Swahili/Arabic for ‘God will save us from the enemy’ and ‘Bugdha’,  meaning’ God’s wrath’.

Sheikh Ahmed Amin Ali:
‘We have warned Kenyans again and again of an attack but they didn’t heed the warning’.
The success of the attack was beyond his expectations, the emir said.
‘Everything I am wearing now – from the boots, combat uniform, pouches, to the rifle – are all war booty. The only item which belongs to me is my head scarf’.
I am informing the family of the man who owned this rifle – butt number 0490  – that the gear belonged to this soldier.
Kenyans have been told over and over they will be victims of al-Shabaab, just as Burundians, Ethiopians, and Ugandans.
Al Shabaab was able to defeat by faith and not by firepower as was evidenced by attacks Uganda and Ugandans fled. KDF had prior info of the attack as all of them had combat gear on from helmut, pouches , boots and firearms. El Addee will be etched in Kenyan history in the same way Westgate and Mpekatoni has.
Al-Shabaab is in forefront of re-writing Kenya’s history; they [al-Shabaab] will indoctrinate their offspring to kill Kenyans, mostly “makafiri” (Christians or non-Muslims).
The former KDF translator said because of prior intelligence of an impending attack soldiers were on high alert during the night, dozing with their rifles in hand. But as dawn approached they concluded they made it through the night, and let down their guard. That’s when the attack occurred.
Amin Ali goes on to say Al-Shabaab subdued the camp [at el-Adde] and a number of KDF soldiers abandoned of their firearms. Uhuru Kenyatta is a messenger/tool who works at the behest of western countries including America, France, and the rest …
Mpekatoni is [a town] largely inhabited by members of his [Kenyatta’s] ethnic Kikuyu tribe. The Kenyan government is perpetually full of lies; they claimed that Mpekatoni was not an al-Shabaab attack. Two hours after the attack [KDF spokesman] claimed that al-Shabaab had attacked the Somali National Army, yet in truth it was the KDF camp.
 The emir goes on to say SNA soldiers had deserted their camp by dawn. The number of KDF dead was estimated at 200 according, to the SNA commander’s word.
“We [al-Shabaab] will not release the numbers from their side because this was a massive attack and exceeded our expectations.
“The Kenyan government went ahead to guard the issue and to declare laws on media outlets on electronic gadgets of spreading images and information relating to el-Adde attack”.
The President was firm in stating Kenyans will not be cowed, but they were afraid of the photos of the dead soldiers that were doing rounds on social media. If indeed Uhuru is the commander-in-chief he should go to battle and fight alongside his troops as al-Shabaab commanders, who have gained experience of the thrust of war.
Mujahideen fighters should trust the word of Allah that allows punishment of Kenyans for KDF soldiers to be delivered into Allah’s hands. Fighters should have faith in Allah to defeat enemies. They should not put all their belief in the weapons but believe in Allah.
The leader, Amin Ali, cites recent injustices against Muslims in Kenya.
“Our sister who was pregnant was thrown by kafir from the third floor of a tall building in Eastleigh. Another sister in same area was also thrown from a tall building breaking her spine. In Mandera KDF captured a woman, our mother of five. They raped her forces raped her, butchered her and left her in an isolated grave”
(The translator notes that the Mandera woman’s demise by security forces was an extrajudicial killing)
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Kenyans took themselves into Somalia and so will have to face the consequences. The Kenya government was not truthful to the families of the deceased. The families therefore should not call the government for information, but call al-Shabaab directly. We will deliver the informed truth.
Amin Ali displays the ID cards of 11 KDF soldiers, mentioning each by name. With each name the audience of fighters shouts their upcountry ethnicity.
“In Kenya blood will ooze in every area and every region”.
We are a pride of lions and we will penetrate Kenya up to state house, if necessary.

Militants Execute Non-Musims at Kenyan World Cup Watch


WORLD06. 16. 14
MILITANTS ‘EXECUTED NON-MUSLIMS’ AT KENYAN WORLD CUP WATCH PARTY
by Margot Kiser
A brutal attack on a crowd of World Cup watchers at a hotel in northern Kenya has reportedly left at least 48 people dead. One of the survivors told The Daily Beast that the assailants were killing non-Muslims execution-style.

Kenyan government officials claimed the attack could be the work of al-Shabaab, an Islamist terror group that killed more than 60 people during an attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi last year.

Mohammed Shariff, who was among the viewers at the Breeze View hotel in the coastal town of Mpekatoni, said the gunmen were asking people whether they were Islamic before opening fire. “They told us to say, ‘There is no god but Allah.’ Then they told the non-Muslims to lie down and then shot them,” Shariff said through a translator.

When Shariff and his friends tried to flee, they found that the assailants had surrounded the hotel, but he managed to escape the gunfire. Many of the others weren’t so lucky.

In Kibaoni, a village less than a mile from Mpekatoni, shooters were reported to be going from door to door demanding that those inside recite the shahada. “Joseph,” a friend of one man who was shot dead, told The Daily Beast that the militants threatened to continue their assaults: “We are al-Shabaab and we will come back until the government removes the dogs from Somalia.”

Kenya has suffered a wave of political violence since 2011, when its armed forces invaded Somalia.
The scene was reminiscent of the stories that emerged from the Westgate attack, in which al-Shabaab militants stormed an upscale shopping center. Early reports claimed that the armed assailants demanded that everyone present recite the shahada, “Laillhailla Allahu.” However, as many Muslims as non-Muslims were killed at Westgate.
So far, only adult men have been reported killed in Sunday’s attack. But military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir stated via Twitter that on Sunday afternoon attackers driving two Nissan minivans sped into Mpeketoni and began shooting people indiscriminately.
The wide-ranging attack targeted two hotels, a gas station, and a police station in the thriving and fast-growing town, which is just under 15 miles from the island of Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage site popular with tourists.

The coastal town was once populated by Swahilis (who are predominantly Muslim), but it became part of a “settlement scheme” for landless Kikuyus implemented by Jomo Kenyatta after independence. It is now a booming region that serves as a base for building crews, commercial developers, and services for the multibillion-dollar mega seaport under construction in nearby Magagoni.

Officials said assailants stole vehicles and weapons from the police station and that two policemen were among the dead. A witness told The Daily Beast that a bank also had been torched.

The identity of the attackers remains unclear, but government officials suggest that al Qaeda-allied Somali militant group al-Shabaab is likely to have carried out the attack.

Kenya has suffered a wave of political violence since 2011, when its armed forces invaded Somalia in response to a rash of kidnappings of tourists and aid workers. Al-Shabaab officially claimed responsibility for the mall attack as retaliation for Kenya’s keeping troops in Somalia. The Westgate mall attack was the deadliest since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

While the attack did not affect Lamu, town residents say they are worried. “Everyone either knows someone or has family in Mpekatoni,” said a resident. Her daughter, who attends boarding school in Mpekatoni, fled into the bush with classmates and teachers. The daughter reported hearing the assailants singing Somali songs.

Many residents of the area are Kikuyu farmers as well as Somali pastoralists. “What we could have here is another Tana River massacre,” said the resident, referring to a series of deadly tribal clashes in 2012 that left 52 dead.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Kenya’s interior minister, Joseph Ole Lenku, did not rule out internal politics as the cause of the Mpekatoni attack.
Later Monday evening, al-Shabaab issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, citing the same reasons it offered for the Westgate mall assault—to force the removal of Kenyan forces from Somalia. The statement also cited the recent extrajudicial killings by police of prominent Muslim preachers, particularly in Mombasa, and the illegal detention of thousands of Somali civilians in Nairobi.
But the land issue is still relevant. Tensions between upcountry Christian tribes, who also happen to be the country’s ruling elite, and Swahili residents, many of whom are of Arabic origin, have been mounting since independence. Arab traders began traveling to the Kenya coast beginning the first century A.D. and settling on the coast in the 17th century. Many of today’s Swahili residents are said to be descendents of Oman.
“The town [Mpekatoni] raided by the Mujahideen was a Muslim town before it was invaded and occupied by Christians,” al-Shabaab added in its statement claiming responsibility for the attack.
Equally ominous was the militant group’s warning to foreigners: “Kenya is now officially a war zone and as such any tourists visiting the country do so at their own peril. Foreigners with any regard for their safety and security should stay away from Kenya or suffer the consequences of their folly.”
Raids that involved the kidnapping of tourists in 2011 had already reduced the number of visitors to Kenya to 1.4 million last year from 1.7 million in 2012. The tourism industry is the nation’s second-biggest source of foreign currency, generating $1.1 billion in 2013, Bloomberg reports.
While pundits are saying the new attack will bring the country’s tourist sector to its knees, the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) is trying to assure the public otherwise. “There were no tourists in the area at the time of the incident. Lamu Island, one of Kenya’s primary tourist resorts, is in no way affected by this attack and neither is any other part of the Kenya coast,” the board said in a statement.

Postscript – Despite al-Shabaab claiming responsibility, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the nation on Tuesday blaming the opposition for the massacre.
“The attack in Lamu was well-planned, orchestrated and politically motivated ethnic violence against the Kenyan community, with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons,” said Kenyatta. “This, therefore, was not an al-Shabab terrorist attack. Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of the heinous crime.”
Tensions have been on the rise recently after a rival leader called for dialogue concerning the nation’s deteriorating security, economic and political situation. Raila Odinga dismissed Kenyatta’s claims that he is trying to overthrow the government.
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MPEKATONI
Torched bank at Mpekatoni. (photo, Lamu Studio, 2014)

 

Some of the 67 casualties at  Mpekatoni (Lamu Studio, 2014)
Some of the 67 casualties at Mpekatoni (Lamu Studio, 2014)

 

Bomb blasted interior of bank (Lamu studio)
Shades of Westgate attack. Bomb blasted interior of bank, Mpekatoni (Lamu studio)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slaughter in Nairobi: Bloody Siege in Shopping Mall Kills Dozens

Slaughter in Nairobi: Bloody Siege in Shopping Mall Kills Dozens

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/22/slaughter-in-nairobi-bloody-siege-in-shopping-mall-kills-dozens.html

Sep 22, 2013  9:23 AM EDT

THE BLOODY SIEGE CONTINUES at a luxury mall in Nairobi where 59 were gunned down and dozens are still captive. Margot Kiser talks to Kenyans who say they’re shocked—but not surprised—by the terror.

Sadia Ahmed, a young presenter with a popular Kenyan radio station, was covering an Indian food cook-off on the rooftop parking lot of Nairobi’s upscale American-style Westgate Mall on Saturday when gunmen appeared suddenly and began firing into the crowd. On weekends, the parking lot doubles as a sort of fairground and playground for kids. Many of them were in the line of fire, and some, at least, are among the dead and injured in a siege that is still underway, and developing into a hostage standoff, more than 24 hours later. The Kenyan government has reported 59 people dead and 175 injured so far.

Kenya Mall Attack
Civilians who had been hiding inside during gun battles manage to flee from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. (Jonathan Kalan/AP)

Ahmed tried to give a sense of the “horrible nightmare” that happened around her, writing in the staccato bursts of Twitter: “The vibrations from explosions. The countless gun shots. The pools of blood. The screaming children. The helpless injured,” she wrote. A picture taken of her with some kids earlier in the day shows a little girl named Neha, who was killed; another named Roshni, who clung to her in terror.  Ahmed tried to protect two other children with her body. A grenade detonated behind her. One of her friends died before her eyes before the attackers moved down into the mall and she was able to escape.

The al-Shabaab group in Somalia, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda and has been under attack from Kenyan troops on its home turf since 2011, immediately claimed responsibility.  And during the first hours of the attack, it went on Twitter, too, to make sure the world would pay attention. It bragged about the action, claiming that Muslims were allowed to go free while unbelievers were not, vaunting the bravery of the killers and telling anyone following the feed to, “Stay tuned!” – until Twitter suspended the account.

Gunmen reportedly asked hostages if they could recite passages from the Quran and to name the prophet Mohamed’s mother. Those who could not were either shot or continued to be held hostage.

Terrorist group al-Shabab live tweeted throughout their Kenya mall massacre, despite Twitter efforts to shut down their accounts.

“The vibrations from explosions. The countless gun shots. The pools of blood. The screaming children. The helpless injured.”

People in Nairobi were shocked by the attack, but not surprised. “There were always threats,” says Ahmed. There have been bombings, “but gunmen with grenades was unexpected.”

The attack bears a close resemblance, in fact, to the one staged in Mumbai, India, in 2008, when gunmen from another group affiliated with al Qaeda seized luxury hotels and attacked a Jewish community center, holding the world’s attention for days in a siege that eventually cost 169 lives.

Counter-terror officials in the West have been concerned that Mumbai-style tactics could be and would be used elsewhere, and many in Nairobi believed it was just a matter of time before al-Shabaab tried some spectacular terrorist operation. Nairobi residents receive alerts and warnings from embassies on a monthly sometimes-weekly basis telling them to be vigilant. But there are limits to what can be done unless people are willing to live and work and shop in armed camps.

“Most people who follow politics are aware of the tensions in East Africa,” says Jim Shanor, a Kenya-based American development specialist who speaks fluent Somali. Located in the heart of Nairobi, the mall is considered the nerve-center of the international diplomatic crowd, its patrons include embassy and Kenya government officials, NGO workers and media. “It was just a matter of time before al-Shabaab would hit a soft target like Westgate.”

KENYA-ATTACK/
A woman’s body is seen in Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi after a shooting spree, September 21, 2013. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

“Kenya has been at war with Somalia for two years,” adds an official with the Kenyan military who wishes to remain anonymous. Kenya invaded Somalia in response to a spate of kidnappings in the fall of 2011. The Kenya Defense Force took over key al-Shabaab strongholds including the port of Kismayu, killing top Shabaab leaders and trying to create a secure buffer zone in parts of Jubba Land along the Jubba River stretching between the two countires.

The Westgate Mall attack obviously was planned well in advance, but the timing may have been decided as a response to last week’s conference on Somalia, held in Brussels, where the European Union and other donor organizations agreed to give the Somali government $2.4 billion in aid over the next three years. The stated purpose is to help develop the Somali economy but also, of course, to try to keep the surviving al-Shabaab at bay.

That won’t be easy. At around noon on Saturday, at about the same time the siege in Nairobi was underway, al-Shabaab staged a grenade attacked at the Bakara market in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, killing at least two people and injuring dozens.

How Somali pirates and terrorists made bank off two Western hostages – Vocativ

2013-07-19T192832Z_650151310_GM1E97K091O01_RTRMADP_3_SPAIN-SOMALIA1269439506.jpg

http://www.vocativ.com/money/uncategorized/how-pirates-and-terrorists-made-bank-off-hostages/

Author Margot Kiser  Posted: 08/06/13 10:24 EST

Nearly two years after Somali pirates kidnapped them, two Spanish foreign aid workers suddenly reappeared at Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu last month and got onboard a small plane headed back to Madrid. An undisclosed ransom was paid for their release, and though it’s still unclear exactly who received the money, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, announced the return of Montserrat Serra, 42, and Blanca Thiebaut, 32, at a press conference last month, saying the women are in “relatively good health.”

The two MSF aid workers arrived in Dadaab, Kenya, a sprawling metropolis of makeshift huts and tents, in the summer of 2011 to begin setting up a hospital for the more than 500,000 refugees, mostly Somalis who fled to Kenya because of war and famine. In October, Serra and Thiebaut were setting up a hospital at a separate camp 5 miles away when six gunmen ambushed their truck, shot and wounded their driver and abducted the women. By the time Kenyan police helicopters spotted the abandoned vehicle, the kidnappers had already taken Serra and Thiebaut across the Somali border.

Very little is known about what happened to the women during their 19 months in captivity. Yet interviews with sources and reports from U.S. and Kenyan authorities shed light on the ad hoc way that Al Shabaab militants and Somali pirates (who reportedly call themselves The Indian Ocean Network) often work in tandem to hide Western hostages and share the ransom money. “Hostage bartering has been known amongst pirate groups, and it is thought that Al Shabaab has handed some hostages over to pirate groups for negotiation,” says John Steed, a former British army colonel and current executive director at Secretariat for Regional Maritime Security, an organization that assists Somalia’s efforts to combat piracy.

Doctors Without Borders2
Montserrat Serra, left, and Blanca Thiebaut
Over the course of their ordeal, Thiebaut and Serra appear to have been shuffled between a series of windowless mud huts every few weeks with nothing to read and no one to talk to. Like most other hostages in the region, the two likely subsisted on a single meal a day of boiled potatoes, pasta and, occasionally, camel meat. In recent photos taken when the women landed in Madrid, they looked as thin and frail as the Somali refugees they once assisted. The gunmen who captured Serra and Thiebaut belonged to a militia that a minority faction of Al Shabaab hired, according to Matt Bryden, director of the Kenya-based Sahan Research Group, which focuses on the Horn of Africa. He tells Vocativ the women were immediately taken to the Somali port town of Kismayu, which is also controlled by Al Shabaab, a militant Islamist group with ties to Al Qaeda.

The pirates and the militant group once had little use for each other. But since July 2011, when African Union forces pushed Al Shabaab out of Mogadishu and cut off many of its revenue streams from the capital city’s port, the group has been strapped for cash. Yet a senior counterterrorism expert in Kenya, who asked not to be named because he or she was not authorized to talk to the media, tells Vocativ that the kidnappers offered the women to Al Shabaab’s commanders in Kismayu, who apparently wanted nothing to do with them. Instead, the kidnappers dragged them nearly 800 miles north to Harardhere, in central Somalia, where they off-loaded their victims onto a band of pirates for $200,000, a well-connected research analyst based in Mogadishu who wished to remain unnamed tells Vocativ. The Indian Ocean Network had found its newest prize.

According to a United States–based authority on piracy and international crime, Mohamed Abdi Hassan Afweyne (who is considered the father of Somali piracy and appropriately dubbed “Big Mouth” by fellow thieves of the sea) admitted in interviews that pirates initially paid the Islamist group $100,000 for safe anchorage in Harardhere between 2008 and 2010. That amount steadily rose and Al Shabaab began demanding 20 to 30 percent of the ransom for both merchant vessels and individual foreign hostages.

The Mogadishu-based expert says that pirates paid Al Shabaab leaders various forms of “protection money” as well as a cut of the ransom. In the case of Judith Tebbutt, a 56-year-old British tourist who was kidnapped (and later released) in 2011, the pirates paid $250,000 to pass through Al Shabaab’s land. For safe passage or anchorage of hijacked merchant vessels off the coast of Harardhere they could snag up to $300,000.

By 2012 Al Shabaab no longer controlled Merca, a city 50 miles south of Mogadishu and the area where the MSF workers were last seen. The Mogadishu-based expert concludes that pirates were the likely recipients of the MSF aid worker ransom, and he says it is rumored that Al Shabaab received a 20 percent cut of that ransom, or khumus.

Somali Pirates Map

In 2011 the average ransom for vessels seized in the Indian Ocean was $5 million, according to a report published by Oceans Beyond Piracy, a Colorado nonprofit. “Al Shabaab commanders usually won’t harbor kidnappers and their hostages,” Bryden says, “but they tolerated them in their midst and eventually took a cut of the ransom.”

Within the Indian Ocean Network, negotiators often pocket extra cash, thanks to a simple, but risky, scam. They will often quote a higher ransom than the kidnappers initially ask for, then keep the difference. If caught, however, the kidnappers will often kill them.

Most aid organizations provide armed security to their workers as they travel between the growing number of satellite camps around Dadaab. But MSF operates differently. Despite the group’s presence in some of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones, workers are rarely kidnapped. The organization says it strives to remain neutral and stay out of politics. Days after Serra and Thiebaut disappeared, Spanish MSF President Jose Antonio Bastos said at a press conference, “We want to strongly distance ourselves from any military or other armed activities, declarations or presumptions of responsibility related to this case.”

Yet neutrality often doesn’t matter when it comes to piracy, as many of the groups involved are mostly interested in making money however they can. Al Shabaab, for instance, got its hands on a piece of the $1.1 million ransom that a private security company and family members paid to liberate Tebbutt, the British tourist, Bryden says. At one point last year, the Islamist group demanded $68,000 per hostage for two Kenyan aid workers who were kidnapped while distributing food and medicine to poor. When it became clear that the families of the hostages couldn’t afford the amount, and the Kenyan government refused to negotiate with terrorists, elders from the hostages’ community eventually agreed on an undisclosed sum with Al Shabaab.

Somali pirates have carried out 218 successful hijackings since 2005 off the Horn of Africa, resulting in the abduction of more than 3,700 crew members and the total ransom payment of an estimated $385 million, according to a June 2013 World Bank report. As many as 97 non-Somali crew members died in the attacks, the report claimed. Although ransom rates are holding steady, the heyday of piracy appears to be over. Attempted hijackings declined by 70 percent from 2011. The number of successful piracy attacks in the Indian Ocean continued to decline in 2012, with just 14 reported hijackings. And on the ground in Kenya, kidnapping incidents are almost nonexistent. According to a United Nations report released last month, the decline is in part due to more effective European Union and NATO patrols, as well as the use of private security aboard merchant vessels.

Judith Tebbutt survived her kidnapping. Her husband’s killer recently received a death sentence from a Kenyan court.
Judith Tebbutt survived her 2011 kidnapping.
(AFP/Getty Images)
Pirates once saw tourists in Kenya as easy pray because of poor security. There hasn’t been an abduction since January 2012, when American journalist Michael Scott Moore, who was writing a book about piracy in Somalia, vanished. He is still missing. “It is highly unlikely that kidnappers will strike again at tourist areas on Kenya’s north coast,” says Major Emmanual Chirchir, former spokesman during Operation Linda Nchi, Kenya’s military campaign in Somalia to fight Al Shabaab. “But towns and refugee camps like Dadaab near the porous Kenya-Somali border in the northeast remain vulnerable.”

The release of the two Spanish aid workers has recharged the debate over publishing ransom amounts, as some argue it drives the dollar amount higher. But that, according to Bryden, simply isn’t true—especially now that kidnappings seem to be waning. “Everyone knows everything in Somalia,” he says. ” If a ransom is paid, word gets out very quickly.”

For now, however, exactly how the ransom exchanged hands remains a secret.

http://www.vocativ.com/money/uncategorized/how-pirates-and-terrorists-made-bank-off-hostages/

Margot Kiser is a Kenya-based American correspondent covering maritime piracy, security, geopolitics, wildlife conservation in East Africa.