Somalia's Shebab: regional threats after Westgate attack

Somalia's Shebab: regional threats after Westgate attack

NAIROBI - One month after Somalia's Shebab fighters stormed Kenya's Westgate shopping mall and massacred dozens of people, the threat from regional sleeper cells or local sympathisers remains high, analysts warned.

"If you haven't learnt the lesson Westgate, more is coming," read posters put up this week at rallies in the southern Somali port of Barawe, a stronghold of the Al-Qaeda linked militants.

"For every Muslim killed in Kismayo, Kenya will pay the price," another read, referring to a city Kenyan troops captured last year.

The attack on the Nairobi mall which left 67 dead marked a significant and worrying step up in Shebab operations, and had required long periods of surveillance and planning, security experts said.

Richard Dowden, head of Britain's Royal African Society, has warned that the Westgate attack suggests Shebab commanders have shifted from "Somali internal politics and closer to Al-Qaeda's global agenda."

Tackling the Shebab is on two key fronts: militarily inside Somalia where African Union troops have been battling the Islamists since 2007, but also in the wider region, especially those countries whose armies are in Somalia, including Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

Earlier this month US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the Senate Foreign Relations committee the Westgate "attack suggests that violent extremism in the Horn of Africa may be evolving." Security remains on high alert, with the US embassy in the Ugandan capital Kampala warning this week it "continues to assess reports that a Westgate-style attack may soon occur".

The AU force in Somalia has requested its size be boosted by a quarter to 23,000 troops and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud urged "total war" on the Shebab "to deny them territory and the space to train and plan".

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