Countering al-Shabab: How the War on Terrorism Is Being Fought in East Africa

Two bombings of churches in Kenya pointed to the resurgence al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in East Africa. But a TIME investigation into how the region's countries (and the U.S.) are handling groups like Somalia's al-Shabab leads to accusations of illegal, murky tactics

  • Share
  • Read Later
Thomas Mukoya / Reuters

A woman wounded during church attacks in the Kenyan city of Garissa is helped by Red Cross paramedics at Nairobi's Wilson Airport on July 1, 2012

The efforts of Margulies and others made Guantánamo a legal nightmare for the U.S. The Kampala investigation represents the counterterrorism community’s response: if Africa counterterrorism operations are run by Africans and kept inside Africa, with Americans officially present only as advisers and observers, Margulies and others will find it much harder to sue the U.S. “If these people are not in U.S. custody, then, simply, there is no jurisdiction,” says Margulies. Western intelligence work in East Africa is “an experiment, an evolution — Counterterrorism 2.0,” he says. “It’s very deliberate and reflects a learning curve from the perceived mistakes of Counterterrorism 1.0.”

But rendition is still illegal. Which begs a crucial question: To what extent is the U.S. running the East Africa operations? U.S. Ambassador Lanier says of the U.S. role in the Kampala investigations: “The FBI came in here for a few weeks. We were very involved in that investigation. We participated in the accumulation of evidence. What they chose to do with that information … We are not part of the arrest and prosecution of anybody.”

But while there is no suggestion that U.S. agents physically organized the rendition operations, statements from several of the Kampala accused unanimously indicate that the U.S. (and some British intelligence officers) did run the subsequent interrogations. According to those questioned, Western and Ugandan officers also frequently told their prisoners that the foreigners were in charge. Walubiri is adamant that the U.S. took the lead. “On the face of it, it looks like a very noble, lawful and helpful intervention — training our police, security-services and intelligence agencies,” he says. “What they are actually doing is assisting the Ugandan and Kenyan governments to break laws on extradition and pretrial detention, and against the torture and mistreatment of prisoners; to deny the accused access to next of kin, lawyers or doctors; to frustrate attempts to get bail; and in setting up a kangaroo court. They are trying to run a Guantánamo in Uganda, with the cover that the Ugandan government is doing it. To whom are they accountable?” Margulies shares Walubiri’s concerns. “The traction we got with Counterterrorism 1.0 was precisely because it was visible. If it’s completely hidden, then who knows what’s happening? Democracy dies in the dark,” he says.

(PHOTOS: Twin Bombings Rock Uganda’s Capital in 2010)

This picture of a secret and illegal Western-dominated intelligence operation also conforms to established patterns of Western counterterrorism in East Africa. Previous investigations by al-Kimathi, Gutteridge, the British rights group Reprieve, and TIME and other media, have revealed the existence since at least 2006 of a cooperative network of security and intelligence services linking Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Somalia, overseen by U.S. and British personnel. Its modus operandi is rendition, secret prisons and torture. These were the same methods used in the aftermath of the 1998 bombings when two suspects, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh and Mohammed Rashed al-‘Owhali, were renditioned from Kenya to the U.S. After that, anecdotal evidence suggests rendition became routine for U.S. intelligence in East Africa. In 2003 a Tanzanian, Suleiman Abdallah Salim, was taken from Somalia to Bagram, Afghanistan, and held there for five years; a Kenyan, Abdulmalik Mohammed, was taken from Mombasa to Guantánamo in 2007; another Kenyan, Ahmed Abdullahi Hassan, was taken from Nairobi to a secret prison in Mogadishu in 2009. After the 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, TIME reported how U.S. Special Operations forces and the CIA sifted the ranks of captured Islamists corralled in southern Somalia for possible al-Qaeda members. Of these, Reprieve and others documented that 85 to 120 suspects (at least 11 of them children) were detained on the Kenya-Somalia border, moved to a secret prison in Mogadishu and finally to another prison in Ethiopia, all the while interrogated by British and American intelligence. In seven years in East Africa before she herself was deported from Kenya in 2011, Gutteridge says she documented well over 100 cases of rendition.

For the U.S. and its allies, AMISOM represents progress in the war on terrorism. Rather than mass deployment of troops, the U.S. and the E.U. are funding countries to tackle their own regional issues. For Africans, that is proof of an increasingly self-reliant continent. For the West, that means less loss of life, less expense and less risk of blowback from the Muslim world.

But the evidence gathered by TIME appears to show that, for the intelligence services, cooperating with African security services is intended not to empower African counterterrorism but merely to avoid scrutiny. The black-site prisons continue. So, as Abdow’s story illustrates, do the abuses. And, as recent history shows, a community that perceives itself under close watch, even oppressed, by African and Western security services is liable to grow more radical.

Ominously, that seems to be occurring. East Africa, previously a place of mostly harmonious religious diversity, is starting to see a new hard division between Christians and Muslims. Muslims, the minority, are denigrated and abused by the police, media and in general conversation. Some are reacting badly. A U.N. report last July found al-Shabab had already built an extensive funding, recruiting and training network in Kenya. On Jan. 15 this year, the Kenya-based Muslim Youth Center declared its head, Amiir Ahmad Iman Ali, al-Shabab’s leader in Kenya. “Jihad should now be waged inside Kenya,” Ali added. As Sunday’s attacks suggest, it now is.

MORE: Kenya’s Crisis: The Refugee Camp Around the Refugee Camp

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. Next
32 comments
gandalf.the.shining.white
gandalf.the.shining.white

The Koran - and if you get offended - tough,this is 2013 - grow up - and stop throwing your toys out of your misbegotten , mysogynist  pram.

As ANYONE who posts here knows, Islam  is not a religion at all , but a political doctrine of supremacy, like Fascism, and Nazism, and communism, hiding under the guise of the religion of the burhka.

Winston Churchill  PM of Great Britain !940 - 1945- said 

'Islam is as dangerous in a man, as rabies in a dog'

And , I believe its important to see this from the other side, in the name of tolerance, 

An Indonesian cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir recently put it, "If the West wants to have peace, then they have to accept Islamic rule."

Mazzaroth Darkman
Mazzaroth Darkman

There exists a global jihadist movement, dedicated to terror and political goals (basically rule the world), there really is no reason why intelligence agencies of collaborating states should not work together to protect the innocent....

f_galton
f_galton

al-Shabab's influence is already waning. Most young Islamists in the region are more interested in joining al-Shabop, or al-Shadoobiedoobiedoo, or el-Debarge.

DANS
DANS

Gee, why doesn't Obama give some help to Kenya, the city of his birth? He makes one heck of a native son, doesn't he? I guess he can forget about having a street named after him!

Gin Heedneeds
Gin Heedneeds

Text 3060402 to 69937 for 'Night Time by Tyler Shemwell...G-ESTEEM

/I'm i doing too much/Or losing my touch/

...a brilliantly written song about "can't wait until night time to party," with lines like,/Riding through the slum/Where i'm from/A place where crack fiends and fat girls love me the most/Some never made it home to take their work clothes off/Afraid they gonna miss something/.

-"Real and A Good Time"

G-ESTEEM-A tenacious confidence;mental toughness"If god is with me than who can be against me? I can do anything. G-ESTEEM Go hard,we dying soon.G-ESTEEM "The game is in belief"

STAY BOW-LEGGED amp; THICK. G-ESTEEM (Presidential Election Nov 6, 2012) 44-Life

Flicka71
Flicka71

Al-shabab of East Africa.......-_-';'.....

Did anyone read the part about them using the rest of the world obsession of soccer (2010 world cup match) to their own advantage? Very dirty and well played. 

GregAbdul
GregAbdul

"Islamists" is a made-up word that does not exist in Islam. Al Shabab is a terrorist group. They are not "Islamic Terrorists." A Christian criminal is always just a criminal. But a Muslim criminal in the eyes of Time.com is an "Islamic terrorist." Funny....you NEVER see the term "Christian terrorists" ever used, not one single time in any news story ever printed by TIME (gay terrorist?). Never do you cite a "Christian criminal, because when a Christian commits a crime, his religion instantly becomes irrelevant, even if he says it is relevant. Why is it okay for the writers and editors at TIME to be prejudiced against Muslims and Islam? It certainly is not a rational prejudice. Muslims are 1.6 billion and growing. That's a lot of readers to lose just because you can't pull your head out of the 50s. "Jihadists" and "Islamists" are made up words that do not exist in the Muslim world that show prejudice aginst Islam. If someone is a criminal, objective journalism says you simply call them a criminal (or a terrorist even) and nothing more. Your prejudice is showing and it will end up costing you money.

AgeDater. C om
AgeDater. C om

Age gap dating is trending

nowadays. Many women are looking to date older men cuz older men are

usually more stable and mature. For older men, dating younger women simply

makes them feel alive and young again. No matter you want older men or younger women,

check out ~~~  MY NAME ~~~  and take a try! You have nothing to lose!

 

f_galton
f_galton

I see what you did there.

gandalf.the.shining.white
gandalf.the.shining.white

Their very founder, the dashing and daring Prophet - has ALWAYS used other peoples weakness, to his advantage.

Its a bit like William Hill -never bet on a losing proposition. He was a master tactician, and used his skills as a trader, and persuader. They would plan tactics masterfully, and execute them ruthlessly - when the odds were on their side. When they weren't, he would slink back into the ' sneaky' Mohammed, and use treachery, guile, and over-arching ambition to win his way.

But what would I know? I wouldn't know a Siberian hampster, from a rat....but then again....

metropika
metropika

Oh boohoo. You don't like it, call al-Jazeera and register your complaints with them. I hear that they take this sort of thing seriously. As for the rest of us, we just call them as we see them and really could'nt give a rats-ass what you think.

Demigagog19
Demigagog19

Heya Greg, have u seen a group of Christians bombing marketplace or mosques or temples? None, thank u very much . That's why there's no term Christian Terrorists in any media

And for Norway? Breivik although very much is Christian he never mentioned that he done that in the name of Christian, no sir he done that because he disgusted with Muslims who demand Sharia enforced with violence and terrorize others who does not follow their teachings.

f_galton
f_galton

I consider Barney Frank to be a gay terrorist.

Epi Phyte
Epi Phyte

Al Shabaab are engaged in "islamic terrorism" because they are waging jihad to  institute a government based solely on shariah. This is their primary ideological driver and sole objective. . . . And they have ample theological support for their methods and goals starting with the actions of Mohammad himself, who also waged a terroristic  jihad to impose shariah and establish an islamic state.

Flicka71
Flicka71

That is an excellent point GregAbdul! A religion is a life guide and self vogue so therefore it should be relevant. 

Islamist terrorist in my opinion is a word though because the extremist muslims parties (suni and sheeite {please excuse the spelling}) are fighting, not only to get the West out and away, but also because of there difference in opinions about how they choose religious leaders so therefore how islam is expressed.

Jamie Bobini
Jamie Bobini

Please look up The Lord's Resistance Army, Ku Klux Klan, The National Liberation Front of Tripura and of course Nazi Germany. 

Just because you refuse to see doesn't mean they don't exist. 

Breivik by the way, declared himself a 'Christian crusader' -- how is that not doing things in the name of Christianity? He was against sharia government, just as some terrorists are against non-sharia government.

GregAbdul
GregAbdul

notice how you nicely said no way a terrorist can be a Christian? I guess....because you say so......

GregAbdul
GregAbdul

I see Christian terrorists all the time. You have a large block of Christians in America who fight to keep medicine from poor people (obama and obamacare haters). Hate crimes are committed in the US. Mosques have been shot at and burned and Muslims are just plain harassed. From where I sit, Christians have in no way cornered the market on morality or abstaining from violence.

GregAbdul
GregAbdul

Epi....

and you know this because you flew to East Africa and spoke to the leadership of al Shabaab....or are you parroting conservative talking points without one ounce of real-world experience on Islam?

Jamie Bobini
Jamie Bobini

That would be assuming that non-shariah government is the default and correct form of government. There is nothing wrong with desiring shariah. Whether shariah is still appropriate today is another issue -- personally, I don't agree to it.

As for primary ideological drivers, should American soldiers in Afghanistan be labeled Democratic terrorists? Or if we listen to hardliners who claim the US is a Christian country, Christian terrorists? It's as bad as reporting a black rapist or white pedophile. Terrorists are terrorists are murderers. They may be motivated by religion (and that applies to Christianity as much as Islam), but they are not the religion. Let's not paint 1.6 billion good, cranky, kind, annoying, pleasant people with a single brush. 

gandalf.the.shining.white
gandalf.the.shining.white

Flick, the whole point is that Islam is NOT  a religion. The religion part is a cover up for the real intent of Mohammed, through the Koran (and other texts) to totally dominate the world. It is a political ideology, like Fascism, or Nazism.

He exposed his naked ambition to murder, terrorize, and subjugate, in Arabia. The Koran is basically a criminal text book.

And that is not me saying that. Look at the number of Islamic terrorists who , inspired by Mohammed, and fundamentalist clerics, actually use Koranic texts as their motive.

Can you see a picture emerge here? They commit these atrocities BECAUSE OF ISLAM, not in spite of it.

The problem lies with the Koran.


GregAbdul
GregAbdul

Flicka, I don't mean to sound defensive....

I am asking you to visit your local mosque and see if there are any "Islamic terrorists" there......

GregAbdul
GregAbdul

Hi Flicka,

Thanks for your compliment, but you miss my point. In the West when a crime is reported, religion is relevant ONLY when it's Islam. Christians commit crimes every day, yet Western media knows and assumes there's not a single Christian terrorist in the entire world. "Islamist" is a made up media word. I am a Muslim. I study our language in its primary source (the Quran). Every blue moon, I visit the mosque. For you to tell me about Muslims makes me ask you a basic question: have you ever set foot in a mosque that you can tell me your real life experience with Muslims? Or are you simply parroting a media line? For example: who told you that Muslims are "parties"? "ist" suffixes are not Islam or Arabic, but English. I wish you had the humility to actually learn about Muslims from Muslims. TIME didn't get this word from Muslims. They made it up because they are forcing religion into stories that are more often about nationalism and culture than they are about religion. For example: Islam explicitly forbids destroying houses of worship, especially churches. There is nothing "Islamic" about tossing grenades at people while they pray, no matter what their prayer is. If you bothered actually learning Islam from Muslims instead of from Time.com, you would be more able to see the clear prejudiced, inferential half-truths they exhibit. They do it because they know you are not knowledgable enough to spot it.

gandalf.the.shining.white
gandalf.the.shining.white

Flick - i like your style - and knowledge - the Islamic doctrine IS to conquer , and subjugate the world,  because their erroneous belief, that Mohammed was the Perfect man. WHICH INDEED HE WAS, make no mistake about it. If you base the idea of a perfect man on Ali Sina's criteria -

He will  pay 

$50,000 U.S. dollars 

to anyone who can disprove any of the dozen of the accusations that I have made against Muhammad. I accuse Muhammad of being:

a narcissist  a misogynist a rapist a pedophile a lecher a  torturer a mass murderer a cult leader an assassin a terrorist a mad man a looter



Flicka71
Flicka71

Also I do not think that all muslims are islamist terrorists. I think that prejudice and misconception began when the TImes covered the story that muslims were going to put there money into a mosque near and right after the 9/11 tragedy. This lead to the assumption that all muslims wish the death of America because ONLY TO US because of lack of knowledge, it seemed like insult to injury......but isn't it in your islamic code to build structures of worship over sites of martyrdom? This is just a question.......you know so people are more informed. ^-^ (smiley = friendly)

Jamie Bobini
Jamie Bobini

GregAbdul, it might be nice to be nice to people who are on your side.  We can't change the haters of course, because no amount of reason will persuade them. We can only hope people keep an open mind and try to learn more before judging. 

Flicka71
Flicka71

Oh, you mean press coverage...yea I agree with that. America in general lives by a lot of double standards....-_-';'.....You kind of took a pretty defensive tone in the middle. I didn't say it to offend you. As far as what you have to ask yourself, "have I ever set foot in a mosque, ever?" Weeeelp no. But man, you have to consider that I live in the conservative southern bible thumping belt south. lol. I don't let the Times form my opinion for me.

p.s.- I know enough about the muslim religion to consider that there is a clear difference between a moderate muslim and the terrorist muslims. Also I'm trying to learn Arabic too. Over in the middle east there technically are parties as I mentioned- the suni and sheeite. please don't misinterpret this as me trying to educate you about your own culture but it's true.

"They do it because they know you are not knowledgable enough to spot it."

Okay.......really? .......was that........was that really necessary? people really have to stop reading comments with a negative connotation........well bye. Absolutely none of you disqus-ers are inviting to actual disqus-tion.

Epi Phyte
Epi Phyte

Al Shabaab are islamic terrorists because they use terror in pursuant of the political goals of islam (establishing an islamic state, imposing shariah). The only remotely christian equivalent would be a christian who murders an abortion doctor in specific reliance on christian theology in order to further the political goal of ending abortion (an objective of orthodox and evangelical Christianity).