Ethiopia announces 'massive offensive' against Al Shabab in Somalia

Kenya meanwhile continues pursuing suspected accomplices to last week's Nairobi attack

Kenyan police make a routine patrol in the Eastleigh area of the capital Nairobi, Kenya, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. Extremists stormed a luxury hotel complex in Kenya's capital on Tuesday, setting off explosions and gunning down people at cafe tables in an attack claimed by militant group al-Shabab. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)
Powered by automated translation

Ethiopian forces are preparing a “massive offensive” against Al Shabab in Somalia following a militant ambush on an Ethiopian peacekeeping convoy and last week's Nairobi hotel attack.

The Ethiopian National Defence Force confirmed on Saturday that the Al Qaeda-linked militants had attacked its troops in Somalia but denied that Ethiopian troops were killed.

An Ethiopian convoy was traveling from Burhakaba to Baidoa in Somalia's southwest when it was attacked, the statement said. No further details on when the ambush occurred or whether there were casualties were given.

Ethiopia contributes troops alongside Kenya and other African nations to the African Union mission in Somalia. Alongside US airstrikes, the African Union force has reduced the ability of Al Shabab to operate but the group still carries out spectacular trans-boundary attacks.

It has never orchestrated a major attack inside Ethiopia but in October the group claimed it has killed 30 Ethiopian troops inside Somalia. Weeks earlier, Ethiopian state meda had reported that the Ethiopian Air Force had killed 70 Al Shabab militants who had tried to attack Ethiopian forces.

The group claimed responsibility for last week's deadly hotel attack in Nairobi, in which at least 21 people were killed.

The attackers stormed the hotel complex opened fire and set off grenades, sending panicked people running for cover as security forces converged. Security camera footage released later showed a suicide bomber blowing himself up in a grassy area. Authorities identified him as 25-year-old Mahir Khalid Riziki, who was born in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa and was sought several years ago by police for alleged extremist activities. All four other gunmen died in the attack.

The response to the attack, which was motivated by the presence of Kenyan peacekeeping troops in Somalia, showed that Kenyan security forces had learned lessons since the chaotic response to Al Shabab's 2013 Westgate mall attack, in which 67 people were killed.

Some 700 people were rescued in last week’s attack thanks to a swift response under a single chain of command, which saw the area rapidly cordoned off and procedures in place to take care of survivors, analysts said.

"It was much more efficient, and it seems to have been better co-ordinated and the tactics they employed were better practised, they had better equipment so all in all, a much better performance," Matt Bryden, director of the Sahan think-tank in Nairobi, told AFP.

Following the attack, the Kenyan government announced plans to allow more private security guards in the country to carry firearms. Currently few private guards are licensed to carry firearms.

Two employees of a private security company were reported killed in Tuesday’s attack.

Kenya’s Private Security Regulatory Authority said on Friday it would implement a vetting process to prevent suspected criminals within security companies gaining access to firearms.


Read more:

Kenya gets better at helping attack survivors cope

Kenya will remain target as long as troops in Somalia

Nairobi attack shows Al Shabab still powerful despite US efforts


Meanwhile, a Canadian national and five other people accused of helping the gunmen who staged the attack appeared in court on Friday to face investigation for terrorism offenses.

A judge ordered five of the suspects to be held for 30 days while authorities investigated the hotel attack.

Suspects who appeared in court were identified as Joel Nganga Wainaina, Oliver Kanyango Muthee, Gladys Kaari Justus, Guleid Abdihakim and Osman Ibrahim. Mr Abdihakim is a Canadian national, according to prosecutors.

Hussein Mohammed, another suspect who was arrested in Mandera county along the border with Somalia, was brought to court separately, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors suspect the alleged accomplices, including two taxi drivers and an agent for a mobile phone-based money service, of "aiding and abetting" the attackers, according to a court document.

Prosecutors said they were pursuing more suspects in and outside Kenya.