HIGH ALERT

Kenyan police say they have stopped a Westgate Mall-style terror attack

Quartz africa
Quartz africa

Kenyan authorities have stopped an “East African terror network” from launching a biological attack on the country. According to a police statement on May 3, three people have been arrested—Mohammed Abdi Ali, a medical student at a hospital in eastern Kenya, his wife, and another woman who has been detained in Uganda.

“The suspects were planning large scale attacks akin to the Westgate Mall attack with the intention of killing innocent Kenyans. His network also included medical experts with whom they planned to unleash a biological attack in Kenya using anthrax,” the police said, referring to the 2013 attack in an upscale Nairobi mall that left 67 people dead. The police have offered cash rewards for two men who are still at large.

The possibility of a new group launching violence in Kenya, which has already suffered attacks from the militant Islamist group al-Shabaab from neighboring Somalia, is alarming. Police did not say the name of the network involved, but accused Ali of sending Kenyan youths to fight with jihadists in Libya and Syria, suggesting Islamic State links. Earlier this year, a new group called the Jahba East Africa pledged allegiance to the ISIL and called on fighters to desert al-Shabaab.

ISIL has been competing for recruits in Somalia and may be gaining a foothold in East Africa, which would give the group access to Somalia’s long coastline, as well as proximity to the key US allies Kenya and Ethiopia.

Kenya’s security forces need a win. Public confidence in the police and military is low—soldiers were caught on video looting stores in Westgate while the mall was still under attack in 2013, and NGOs have accused the military of colluding with al-Shabaab to smuggle sugar and charcoal into Somalia. In February, an al-Shabaab attack on an African Union base in Adde, Somalia left at least 180 Kenyan soldiers dead, according to Somali officials. (Kenyan authorities won’t disclose the death toll or how many soldiers are still held captive by al-Shabaab.)

The police did not provide details as to how they discovered or foiled the alleged terror plot. The police said they would investigate Ali’s case for another 30 days. “His arrest and those of his accomplices is a major breakthrough in the fight against terrorism in Kenya and the region,” the police said.

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