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Grenade replaces guns as weapon of choice in Kenya raids

Sunday, June 30, 2013

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On Sunday June 23, unknown assailants fired a rocket propelled grenade at a camp for internally displaced persons in Chokoro, Mandera County killing 15 people and wounding two dozen more.

It was perhaps the deadliest attack so far in the ongoing ethnic clashes between the Garre and Degodia clans in Wajir and Mandera counties, which has been raging since the end of the elections in March.

But what was even more striking was the use of grenade as a weapon of choice in the attack. Grenade attacks have become frequent to the extent that their use has almost become the norm rather than the exception.

By our count, more than 50 people and hundreds more have been killed and injured in some 30 attacks over the past two years, which have also ruined many businesses.

The sheer number of the attacks and their frequency in Kenya alongside volatile states such as Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, are now becoming the norm.

Kenya’s economy, largely dependent on tourism, continues to suffer with each explosion reinforcing a false perception in the international media of a country on the edge.

Security officials say most of the attacks by Al Shabaab insurgents are in retaliation to Kenya’s invasion of southern Somalia in 2011 to battle the terror group.

Worst affected places are Mombasa, Wajir, Mandera, Garissa and Nairobi counties where chances of dying from a grenade attack as opposed to a gun have significantly shot up.

Illustrating how common the use of grenade has become, a day after the Choroko attacks, four people were injured after two grenades were hurled at a shop near Baraza Park in Wajir County.

Easy to conceal

So when and why has the grenade become a weapon of choice for terrorists and criminals? What is so appealing about it that it has overtaken the gun as a weapon of choice?

“Three things,” said Captain (rtd) Simiyu Werunga a security analyst. “They are easy to conceal and to carry, it is convenient in the sense that you don’t waste time aiming for example and the impact is great, although it kills indiscriminately,” he said

The exact number of grenades in the hands of criminals in the country is not known, but their easy availability has been clearly demonstrated by in the growing number of attacks that continue to confound security officials.

The conflicts raging in neighbouring countries, its porous borders coupled with corruption in the security agencies have made the entry of weapons to Kenya easy.

An official of the police Anti-Terrorism Unit who asked not to be named since he is not authorised to talk to the Press said majority of grenades used in the attacks originate from the former Soviet Union Republics.

“The models used in most of the attacks are Russian made, although there are some from Western Europe and a few from the US as well,” said the official.

It is believed that Al Shabaab stoke piled the weapons, both in Somalia and Kenya for what they believed was going to be penultimate show down with the KDF, which never was.

In July last year this reporter met an arms trafficker in North Rift who offered to sell two Russian made grenades for Sh15,000 each and a grenade launcher for Sh40,000.

His main market, he said, was the Uganda and Rwanda and the Congo where decades long conflicts rage, but he confided the growing demand for them in Kenya.

Although most of the attacks are terrorism related, the anti-terrorism official suspected a sinister commercial element to some of the attacks, especially in Nairobi.

He said that competitors could be seeking to settle business scores by using tactics employed by the Al Shabaab knowing very well that suspicion would never fall on them.

“Some of them make little sense from my perspective. You fail to get the motive of the attacks and we have gathered, though not conclusively that some of the attacks could be competition for businesses,” he said.

Grenade attacks are not entirely a new phenomenon in the country.

The country has in the past suffered isolated attacks that security officials concluded were politically motivated.


An attack on Kwa Mwaura bar in downtown Nairobi in October 2011 ushered in the current wave of terror that is proving a challenge to security officials. The Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the incident.

Mr Werunga said that once the Al Shabaab stoke pile is exhausted, and given the fact that the militant group is disintegrating, there will be less grenade attacks.

“The group cannot replenish its weaponry now because of the economic squeeze they are facing after the KDF invasion. What is out there is being exhausted quickly,” he said.

However the anti-terrorism official took different view. “ Al Shabaab has rich funders from the gulf states. If they keep up supplying them, then we are far from seeing the end of it.”

As a result of the attacks, the tourism sector continues to take a beating, especially the Coast region. Following the recent spate of attacks, for example, Britain issued a travel advisory to its citizens against visiting Kenya.


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