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Experts: Marginalisation, mismanagement provoked Garissa attack

07 April 2015, 09:06

Nairobi - The government says the university massacre of 148 people was a "surprise" that could happen anywhere: but experts say decades of marginalisation coupled with government failings meant the attack was hardly unexpected.

The attack on the university in the northeastern town of Garissa last Thursday was Kenya's deadliest since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, and the bloodiest ever by Somalia's Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab militants.

But experts say the anger that drove the gunmen has a long and dark history in an impoverished region -- and they warn that without concerted action, the attacks wont stop.

Kenya's ethnic Somali northeastern region -- where Garissa is one of the main towns -- is also claimed by the Shabaab as part of Somalia itself. The region has long been lawless and was the scene of the brutal secessionist 1963-1967 "Shifta war".

"Since independence, Kenya was built on the principle of division of the country," said Benoit Hazard, from France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).

 'Punishment of communities'

Interior Minster Joseph Nkaissery has said the university attack was "one of those incidents which can surprise any country."

But a Shabaab statement on Friday -- warning Kenyans of further bloodshed -- said the gunmen carried out the Garissa attack in revenge for the "systematic persecution of the Muslims in Kenya".

Attacks cited include Kenya's 1984 Wagalla massacre, when Kenyan troops trying to put down local conflict killed an unknown number of people -- officially less than a hundred, while others claims up to 5,000 people.

"Kenyan security forces have a deeply troubling record in northeast Kenya since the 1960s: killings, unlawful detention, torture, rape and sexual violence," said Leslie Lefkow from Human Rights Watch.

"Punishment of entire communities has been the routine response to insecurity."

There has been growing criticism in the media that critical intelligence warnings were missed, while Western nations have issued a string of foreign travel warnings.

Hours before the attack in Garissa began, President Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenya "is as safe as any country in the world".

"There is no sure-fire prevention against terrorist attacks," said Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, an academic and expert on the region.

"But the scale of the Garissa attack, the prior warning and the regularity with which these attacks have been occurring, points to systemic state failure -- and the buck stops with the president," he told AFP.

 Terrorist kingpins 'embedded' in Kenya 

Al-Jazeera journalist Mohammed Adow, a Kenyan and an ethnic Somali, describes the challenges his home region faces: poverty, high youth unemployment, rapid population growth and general insecurity.

"As a result of decades of marginalisation, northeastern Kenya -- as well as parts of the coastal region -- lacks basic services such as paved roads, schools and hospitals," Adow wrote in an analysis following the Garissa attack.

"Resentment towards the government is high and radicals are able to exploit these factors. Chronic youth unemployment, for example, makes Al-Shabaab's promise of some income attractive."

A $215,000 (200,000 euro) bounty has been offered for alleged Shabaab commander Mohamed Mohamud, a former Kenyan teacher said to be the mastermind behind the attack and believed to now be in Somalia.

Authorities on Sunday named one of the four gunmen killed as a fellow Kenyan, highlighting the Shabaab's ability to recruit within the country.

The Shabaab warned of a "long, gruesome war" unless Kenya withdrew its troops from Somalia, where troops crossed the long and porous border in 2011 to fight the Islamists.

But the troops inside Somalia -- where Kenya on Monday launched fresh airstrikes on Shabaab bases -- appear to have done little to help security on the Kenyan side of the frontier.

Kenyatta himself, speaking to the nation after the attacks, warned that the terrorist masterminds were inside Kenya, not Somalia.

"The planners and financiers of this brutality are deeply embedded in our communities", he said, warning that "radicalisation is happening openly" in Islamic madrassa schools by "rogue" preachers.

Corruption and stolen funds have weakened security efforts, Halakhe said, warning there was an urgent need to "clearly lay out the Somalia exit plan" and to "embark on serious counter-terrorism effort anchored in human rights framework."

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