Kenya, Somali Refugees Exchange Blame for Attacks
A policeman uses a dog to disperse rioters during the second day of skirmishes in the Eastleigh neighbourhood of Kenya's capital Nairobi, November 19, 2012.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
NAIROBI — A series of grenade attacks in a Somali neighborhood of Nairobi this past year has killed dozens of people and injured more than 100 others. Members of the Somali community living in the area believe the attacks are politically motivated, and accuse the Kenyan government of trying to chase them away from the city.
The Eastleigh district of the Kenyan capital Nairobi has suffered a series of deadly attacks targeting churches, mosques and bus stops in recent months.
The attacks have led to police carrying out sweeps arresting hundreds of people in the area.
The police have blamed the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab and their sympathizers for the spate of bomb and grenade attacks. The government also said the presence of Somali refugees has led to the deterioration of security in the country.
But the chairman of the Eastleigh Business Community, Hassan Gullet, said the attacks do not the bear the hallmarks of al-Shabab, and that there may be other forces at work.
“We really doubt its issues based on al-Shabab. The explosives which they are using are very small. What we believe is this - it has a political connection. Because the target is definitely Somalis we suspect that probably this is one which is supposed to create a bad harmony between Somalis and non-Somalis who are Kenyans, it could also be a way of chasing Somalis from the country here,” Gullet said.
Kenya has faced a wave of terror attacks in the country since its troops entered Somalia to fight al-Shabab more than a year ago.
However, the militant group has not claimed responsibly for the attacks in Eastleigh or other parts of Kenya.
Police have arrested hundreds of people across the country in the wake of these attacks. But regional police commander Moses Ombati admits that they have yet to find the actual perpetrators.
“We want to know who [is] this person giving explosives and throwing grenades; this is the person we are looking for," he said. "It’s not many people, it’s not something we can say is out of hand, this is something that is under control, only that we have not got the right person.”
On Wednesday, the Kenyan government issued a directive calling on all Somali refugees and asylum seekers living in Eastleigh and other towns to move to the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.
Abdifatah Abdullahi, a businessman in Eastleigh, said the directive will affect refugees but people like him with proper documents should be free from harrassment by the police.
“Before we secure the area, people with the right documents should feel secure,” he said. “They are the ones who are arrested and accused of being a suspect. It’s wrong to treat everyone you see in the street as a suspect, that increases the fear among people.”
Amnesty International has also condemned Kenya's directive, saying the decision to place refugees and asylum seekers in camps away from urban centers is a discriminatory and unlawful restriction on freedom of movement.
Hassan Gullet of Eastleigh Business Community said tension in Eastleigh has given security forces a green light to abuse, harass, and extort money from people.
“When explosion takes place and people are injured, definitely government takes reaction [action] now," he said. "Sometimes they overreact and round up people indiscriminately and when they do that we end up having a lot of problems. Our security officers are not all good, there are some who are bad, and they target people where they possibly want to make money and they do make some money.”
Security officers have released some of the suspects arrested in the sweeps after interrogation, but police say they are still holding some whom they think will give them a lead to get those responsible for the attacks.
For now the fear is growing among Kenyans, who are calling for the police to get to bottom of the terror attacks and apprehend the culprits.
And Somalis, fearing further attacks, tit-for-tat violence and the police anti-terror campaign, are starting to leave Nairobi, to either head back to Somalia or to the refugee camps.