Kenya: Extremism and Terrorism

On July 14, 2023, al-Shabaab carried out four attacks in Mandera County, Kenya. Among the locations targeted were the Jabibar Quick Response Unite (QRU) camp, the Elwak Kenya Defence Forces camp, and the Wargadud police station. Three fatalities were reported in Wargadud, where the militants destroyed a communications mast before ambushing the police station. (Source: The East African)

From June to mid-July 2023, al-Shabaab carried out at least nine attacks across Kenya, signaling the expansion of the group’s operations into the country. Prior to June, one of the last al-Shabaab attacks occurred in November 2022 when suspected al-Shabaab members abducted four people in an ambulance in Mandera, Kenya. According to media sources, local clan leaders worked with Somalia’s administration to negotiate for the release of the captives. On November 3, the four abductees were released. Prior to the abduction, on August 28, 2022, the terror group released a statement threatening increased attacks against Kenya if Kenyan troops remain in Somalia. According to the statement, al-Shabaab “will continue to concentrate our attacks on Kenyan towns and cities as long as Kenyan forces continue to occupy our Muslim lands.” (Sources: Reuters, Nation, Voice of America)

Though the United States has carried out a sustained drone operation in neighboring Somalia, military officials currently lack guidelines on such conduct in Kenya. As of 2023, 600 U.S. military personnel work at Camp Simba, Manda Bay Airfield. Camp Simba was the site of the January 2020 al-Shabaab attack that killed three Americans, U.S. service member Henry Mayfield Jr., and two Department of Defense contractors. Two U.S. military contractors were also injured. The assailants managed to destroy six civilian aircraft and three military vehicles before being repelled by Kenyan Defense Forces and U.S. African Command. The attack was the first al-Shabaab attack against U.S. forces inside Kenya. On September 17, 2020, a military court in Somalia sentenced one of the perpetrators, al-Shabaab member Farhan Mohamud Hassan, to life in prison for his role in the attack. (Sources: New York Times, U.S. Army, Wall Street Journal, Military Times, New York Times, ABC News, BBC News)

Kenya has been a target of terrorist attacks. The largest, most high-profile attack occurred in 1998 when al-Qaeda operatives bombed the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, killing more than 220 people. In recent years, the Somali-based al-Shabaab has perpetrated two largescale attacks in Kenya: the September 2013 siege of Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall that left 67 people dead, and the April 2015 attack on Garissa University in northeastern Kenya in which militants killed 148 people. The Somali terror group has increased attacks in Kenya in order to dissuade the country from sending its military to help stabilize neighboring Somalia. (Sources: CNN, Reuters, Reuters, Reuters)

Al-Shabaab is the most active extremist group in Kenya, but is not solely responsible for the country’s extremist violence. The separatist organization Mombasa Republican Council, for example, has used violence in its quest for the city of Mombasa’s secession from Kenya. Police have accused the group of planning attacks including an attack on a casino in March 2013. Separately, ISIS is not believed to have a foothold in Kenya, though Kenyan citizens have traveled abroad to join the international terror group. Additionally, beginning in 2017, bandits who have rampaged the country’s pastoral north for decades started to brandish firearms more regularly, making them more of a threat to Kenya’s herdsmen. Banditry of livestock has become so violent, that in 2022, a number of Kenya’s members of parliament sought to amend the country’s antiterrorism legislation to include bandits within its purview as hundreds of people are killed every year by bandits seeking out livestock, particularly in the North Rift region. (Sources: Reuters, Reuters, Reuters, Reuters, All Africa, Nation)

The Kenyan government has taken an aggressive approach to countering extremism at home and abroad. As terrorist forces have grown in strength, the central government in Nairobi has invested more resources to disrupt terrorist financing and thwart their operations. In April 2015, the Kenyan government began construction of a wall along Kenya’s Somali border to keep out al-Shabaab militants and illegal immigrants. Northeastern Regional Commissioner Mohamud Saleh said in January 2018 that the construction of the wall had helped lower border attacks to “almost zero.”  However, lack of payment for construction workers and political quarrels between the Kenyan and Somali governments have slowed development of the wall. The counter-extremism agenda has also suffered from government corruption. Security services have been accused of rampant abuse and torture in the conduct of their operations and detainment policies. The construction of the wall resumed in August 2020, but by February 2022, there were reports that the wall—which is nothing more than a wire-mesh fence—was vandalized and destroyed in certain areas. (Sources: Human Rights Watch, Guardian, Telegraph, Shanghai Daily, Premium Times, Kenyans, Standard Media)

Al-Shabaab continues to pose a significant threat to Kenya. On July 13, 2023, al-Shabaab militants seize Gherille Forward Opening Base (FOB) in Jubaland, Somalia near Kenya’s border. The militants ambush soldiers, engaging in intense gunfighting and killing at least three. The seizure is significant as it enables al-Shabaab to more readily carry out attacks in Kenya. (Source: Garowe Online)


Kenya has become a prime location for al-Shabaab radicalization and recruitment amid the terror group’s rise in Somalia. As early as 2012, reports indicated that al-Shabaab was attracting a large number of Kenyan converts to Islam. By December 2014, it was estimated that Kenyans comprised around 25 percent of the terror group’s ranks. Al-Shabaab has primarily recruited within Muslim communities along the Kenyan coast. School heads in these communities have said that al-Shabaab militants have infiltrated their institutions, influencing students and recruiting youth to their cause. In December 2017, Kenyan police raided an Islamic school in Likoni, Mombasa, arresting two to four teachers and taking 100 students into protective custody. The children were being indoctrinated to an extremist Islamist ideology, according to authorities. (Sources: Global Post, BBC News, BBC News, Reuters, The Star, Jamestown Foundation, Reuters)

Al-Shabaab recruiters with links to both Kenya and Somalia pose a major security threat to Kenya. For example, well-known al-Shabaab militant Abdukadir Mohamed Abdukadir is a Kenyan national of Somali origin and an effective liaison between extremists in the two countries. Abdukadir, also known as Ikrima, is able to travel freely between the two countries and leverage his linguistic and cultural knowledge to radicalize young Kenyans and convince them to enlist with al-Shabaab. A 2018 study by U.S.-based NGO PeaceTech Lab found that al-Shabaab had expanded its recruitment inside Kenya to include Kenyan Muslims as well as the Somali diaspora. Given that al-Shaabaab seeks to extend their influence across the ethnic Somali regions of East Africa, the terror group does continue to recruit in Kenya. However, Kenyan operatives focus their efforts on attacks seeking to expel foreign forces from Somalia. (Sources: BBC News, BBC News, PeaceTech Lab, Program on Extremism)

Kenyans have perpetrated violent extremist attacks inside Kenya. Kenyan national Elgiva Bwire Oliacha, for example, carried out an al-Shabaab grenade attack in Nairobi in 2011 that wounded over two dozen people. Oliacha pled guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment, though his sentence was later reduced to 15 years. On April 23, 2014, Kenyan national Abdul Hajira attacked a Nairobi police station with a car bomb, killing two police officers—though media outlets have not linked Hajira to any specific group. More recently, in August 2016, a police raid targeting a former police officer who had deserted the force recovered three AK-47 rifles and 178 rounds of ammunition. The suspect was reported to have been planning an attack on an elite police force and was believed to have been radicalized by al-Shabaab, Additionally, according to scholars on the terror group, non-ethnic Somalis rarely take on senior leadership positions within the organization, which at times leads to ideological divides between the Somalia-based group and their Kenyan satellite network. Al-Shabaab’s wing in Kenya, Jaysh Ayman, is reportedly more so radicalized by economic and security grievances in Kenya rather than al-Shabaab’s agenda in Somalia. (Sources: Global Post, The Nation, STRATFORStandard Digital News, The Star, Program on Extremism)

Kenyan youth face economic, religious, and social coercion to convince them they have no alternative to joining extremist organizations, Lambert Mbela, a Christian pastor in Mombasa, told Religion News Service. According to Mbela, some youth convert to Islam for the promise of economic benefits or even just food. A June 2018 report by PeaceTech Lab report found that increased economic opportunity was one of the primary reasons for conversion to Islam among the region’s Christians. The report noted that east African Christians who convert to Islam are often more at risk of radicalization due to social isolation. PeaceTech Lab researchers focused on the area of Mombasa and found that the families and friends of Christian converts to Islam tend to break their ties, increasing the converts’ isolation and susceptibility to recruitment. (Sources: Religion News Service, Xinhua)

Foreign Fighters

Hundreds of young Kenyans comprise the largest contingent of foreign fighters in al-Shabaab. Kenyan authorities continue to arrest Kenyan citizens on their way to join the terror group. In June 2017, for example, authorities arrested five Kenyan youth—all below the age of 20—on suspicion of attempting to join al-Shabaab in Somalia. (Sources: Associated Press, Standard Media)

In recent years, Kenyans have also sought to join ISIS in the group’s strongholds abroad. In October 2016, Kenyan authorities arrested a female microbiology student and convert to Islam for attempting to join ISIS. That incident preceded the high-profile arrest of attempted foreign fighters in October 2017, when South Sudanese security agents arrested three Kenyans for allegedly attempting to join ISIS in Libya. Two days after that arrest, three Kenyan girls returned home after escaping ISIS in Libya. More recently, in March 2018, Kenyan terror suspect Mohamed Shukri Abdiwahid Yerrow successfully joined ISIS in Yemen, according to Kenyan security sources. (Sources: News 24, Associated Press, Nairobi News, Standard Media)

DusitD2 Compound Attack

On January 15, 2019, five Somali militants stormed the DusitD2 hotel and business complex in Nairobi where they opened fire and detonated an explosive. The 19-hour siege claimed the lives of at least 26 and injured another 28. The attack was aimed at wealthy Kenyans and foreigners as the upscale complex contained the offices of multiple international companies. In addition to sixteen Kenyans, one British national and one American were among the casualties. The five militants were killed by security forces with another 12 suspects being held for questioning. (Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters)

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that the attack was carried out in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As Kenya continues to support U.S. airstrikes against al-Shabaab, the insurgents have increased the frequency of their attacks throughout the country, particularly on Kenya’s border with Somalia. Furthermore, Kenya, and Nairobi in particular, hosts international high-value targets—from two U.N. agencies to multiple international media houses—that al-Shabaab can target to quickly gain international coverage. (Sources: BBC News, Washington Post, Voice of America, Al Jazeera)

Garissa University

On April 2, 2015, al-Shabaab militants launched a 15-hour attack on Kenya’s Garissa University, killing 148 students and faculty. The Islamist group targeted victims on the basis of their Christianity, and said the attack was a direct result of Kenya’s military presence in Somalia. The massacre was the country’s deadliest attack since the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings. (Sources: Time, Wall Street Journal)

Al-Shabaab swiftly claimed responsibility for the attack, exclaiming: “Our Mujahideen brothers today managed to carry out a successful operation in Garissa town. We told the Kenyans to withdraw their army from Somalia. They did not want to listen us, so this is our message to them.” Garissa University is located 90 miles from the Somali border. The porous Kenyan-Somali border allows for the relatively free flow of al-Shabaab militants between the two countries. Garissa County also hosts Dadaab—one of the largest refugee camps in the world with over 336,000 Somalis—making the area especially vulnerable to al-Shabaab attacks. On March 24, 2021, Kenyan Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i, ordered the closure of the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, giving the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) two weeks to present a plan on the projected shutdown. The northern Kenyan camps host more than 410,000 refugees, many of which are from Somalia. Authorities in Nairobi originally announced the intention to shut down Dadaab in 2016 due to national security concerns, but a Kenyan judge in 2017 ruled that the camp closure would be illegal and discriminatory. According to intelligence reports compiled by the Kenyan government, two large attacks on Kenyan targets in 2013 and 2015 were allegedly carried out with the help of camp inhabitants. (Sources: Time, Wall Street Journal, CNN, New York Times)

The Kenyan government did not immediately respond to the attack, but launched retaliatory airstrikes against al-Shabaab camps in Somalia several days later. The government also clamped down on businesses and individuals suspected of providing material support to al-Shabaab and announced that it was planning to construct a wall along the Kenya-Somalia border to cut off the flow of al-Shabaab fighters. Construction of the wall began in mid-April 2015. (Sources: BBC News, Time, Time, Telegraph, Shanghai Daily)

Westgate Mall

Al-Shabaab’s second-largest massacre in Kenya came in September 2013 when gunmen attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. Al-Shabaab claimed the attack was in response to Kenya sending troops to neighboring Somalia in support of the U.N.-backed government. Between 10 and 15 gunmen stormed the mall on September 21, shooting indiscriminately and moving store to store to take approximately 36 hostages. According to witnesses, the gunmen specifically targeted non-Muslims and told Muslims to flee before executing other hostages. On September 24, security forces retook control of the mall and the Kenyan government announced the end of the hostage crisis. Security forces had allegedly killed five terrorists and arrested 11 people suspected of involvement. Not including the attackers, 67 people were killed and 175 were injured during the siege. In 2015, the U.S. targeted and killed Somalia-based Adan Garar, the mastermind behind the attack. (Sources: BBC News, Telegraph, Associated Press, Independent, International Business Times)

Critics charge that the Kenyan government was unable to respond effectively and immediately to the attack because of poor cooperation between the army and police. For example, Kenya’s Special Forces soldiers shot the commander of an elite police unit in a friendly-fire incident during the attack. The government response was also hindered by corruption. Video footage taken during the siege shows soldiers looting stores in the mall for goods. The attack was Kenya’s worst since the 1998 al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. (Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC News, Guardian)

On October 7, 2020, a Nairobi court found Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hussein Hassan Mustafah guilty for their role in the Westgate attack. Abdi and Mustafah were found guilty of conspiracy to commit terrorism and aiding al-Shabaab. On October 30, both men were sentenced to 18 years in prison, while Abdi was also given an additional 15-year sentence for possession of materials promoting terrorism. (Sources: New York Times, Reuters) 

Kenya launched its National Strategy to Combat Violent Extremism in September 2016. President Uhuru Kenyatta vowed that the plan would pool resources from government, civil society, and the private sector in support of counterterrorism efforts, and would emphasize de-radicalization over military tactics. The effort is headed by Kenya National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) director Martin Kimani. Three county governments—Lamu, Kwale, and Mombasa—have established their own CVE strategies as well. (Source: Jamestown Foundation, U.S. Department of State)

In March 2017, Kenya announced it had formed a committee to spearhead efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism. The group is reported to include all principle secretaries and the Inspector General of Police. A government spokesman termed the effort a “cross-cutting, multi-agency national campaign” and said it would include “preventative, mitigation, and rehabilitative measures” to complement ongoing counterterrorism efforts. The committee operates under the country’s CVE strategy announced in September 2016. In 2018, the NCTC began work with Kenya’s Ministry of Education on a school program on countering violent extremism. (Sources: Xinhua, Daily Nation)

In 2018, Kenyan security experts noted that Kenya’s military strategy had led to a general decrease in al-Shabaab’s violent activities but there had been a simultaneous increase in online radicalization. In September 2018, the Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies (CHRIPS) and the Institute of Development Studies jointly launched the Countering Violent Extremism Research Hub, an online library to support CVE research. The government-funded resource tracks extremist incidents in Kenya and details active CVE programming. (Sources: Institute of Development Studies, Countering Violent Extremism Research Hub, Xinhua)

The Kenya-Somali Border Wall

Kenya announced plans in March 2015 to build a wall along its border with Somalia to keep out illegal immigrants and al-Shabaab militants. Construction of the wall began in mid-April 2015 in the coastal city of Lamu, Kenya. The 440-mile planned wall, which will stretch from the Indian Ocean to the city of Mandera where the borders of Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia converge. The proposed wall will consist of concrete barriers, fences, ditches, and observations posts. In March 2016, both countries ultimately agreed to establish shared exit and entry ports along the border so as to better monitor those moving between the two countries. Northeastern Regional Commissioner Mohamud Saleh said in January 2018 that the construction of the wall had helped lower border attacks inside Kenya to “almost zero.” Kenya suspended construction of the wall in March 2018 after tensions arose over more than 60 houses along the proposed route. Talks between Kenya and Somalia collapsed that August after Somalia accused Kenya of restarting construction without an agreement. In March 2019, Kenyan members of parliament (MPs) decried the ineffectiveness of the wall—or more exactly, the 700 kilometer wire-mesh fence—as it did not provide adequate protection to the country from al-Shabaab terrorists. Additionally, the MPs stated that Kenya should instead invest on “intelligence gathering technology to limit attacks caused by al-Shabaab. In 2022, some media sources claimed the border wall did reduce the frequency of al-Shabaab attacks, particularly in Mandera. However, the wire-mesh fence has been subject to vandals who have destroyed sections of the fence. (Sources: Guardian, Telegraph, Shanghai Daily, Premium Times, Garowe Online, Standard Media)

Security Measures

Since the April 2015 terrorist attack on Garissa University, Kenyan police have increased their presence in vulnerable areas including on college campuses. Kenya has also retaliated vigorously against al-Shabaab forces, sending fighter jets to bomb the terrorist group’s camps in Somalia. Kenyan military spokesmen claim uncertainty about what effect, if any, the bombing campaign has achieved. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

While Kenyan authorities have expanded their campaign to stop violent extremists, the harsher aspects of its implementation have exacerbated historical conflicts between the Kenyan government and Kenyan Muslims. Kenya’s sizable Muslim population has borne the brunt of these security measures. Some counterterrorism efforts have also enabled human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, and torture by government security forces. (Source: Human Rights Watch)

Counterterrorism Legislation and Human Rights Controversies

The Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) has allegedly been responsible for extrajudicial executions, disappearances, and mistreatment of individuals arrested on terrorism charges. Instead of responding to these concerns, Kenyan lawmakers passed the Security Laws (Amendment) Act No. 19 of 2014, which further empowers security forces and inhibits the freedom of the media and other sources of independent scrutiny. This new legislation also allows Kenyan police to hold terror suspects for nearly a year, and gives authorities the power to monitor and tap phones. (Sources: Human Rights Watch, Al Jazeera)

While Kenyan officials state that these measures are necessary to counter terrorism effectively, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding this legislation. Opponents claim that it is unfairly infringing on basic human rights. The law places restrictions on the media, for instance, that arguably violate the freedom of expression. In addition, the law strictly limits the number of refugees permitted to reside in Kenya, which critics argue also violates constitutional provisions. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society groups, and opposition leaders have called the bill “suppressive” and “draconian.” (Sources: Al Jazeera, The Jurist, AllAfrica)

On March 15, 2017, London-based Privacy International released a report accusing Kenyan security agencies of violating individual privacy rights and using information collected to commit human rights abuses, including targeted killings. Reports by other groups, including Human Rights Watch, claim that dozens of Kenyans suspected of links to extremist groups have disappeared and some were found executed. (Sources: Human Rights Watch, Guardian, Telegraph, Shanghai Daily, Star Tribune)

Kenya’s main antiterrorism legislation is the 2012 Prevention of Terrorism Act. According to scholars in the region, the act is controversial as it provides security forces sweeping powers to detain suspected terrorists and allows the state to create lists of suspected terrorists and terrorist organizations without due process. On October 9, 2022, government leaders called for amending the 2012 Terrorism Act to include bandits who have been terrorizing the North Rift region of the country for the past few years. According to Senator Samson Cherarei, the bandits are not ordinary criminals given their ongoing violent operations and the extensive network of bandit members. According to media sources, hundreds of people are killed every year by bandits seeking out livestock, particularly in the North Rift region. (Sources: All Africa, Nation, Freedom House)

On July 7, 2023, Kenya’s Cabinet approved the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating of Terrorism Financing Laws (Amendment) Bill 2023. The amendment would ensure new measures to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. Additionally, the amendment would include supervising and enforcing terrorism financing, reporting suspicious transactions, transparency of beneficial ownership, and combating terrorism financing. The bill would also require businesses and financial institutions to verify the credibility of their customers. (Source: The Star)

On July 10, 2019, Kenya partnered with the U.N. to convene a two day Pan African Counter-Terrorism Summit in Nairobi. The forum devised new strategies in combatting the war on terror and violent extremism with specific focus on a “whole of society” approach. In February 2012, the U.N. Security Council authorized Kenya to join the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Kenya contributed about 4,000 troops to the mission. Later that year through AMISOM, Kenya’s military forces captured Somalia’s port city of Kismayo, which had served as a revenue source for al-Shabaab. Following an al-Shabaab ambush on Kenyan forces in El Adde, Somalia, the Nigerian and Somali governments expressed their preparedness to collaborate with Kenya to combat terror groups in the region. Kenya continues to participate in AMISOM. (Sources: Global Times, United Nations, Congressional Research Service, Daily Nation, Capital News)

On September 1, 2022, Kenya joined the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC), a coalition of 42 member states that work to coordinate, unify, and reinforce efforts to combat the financing and supporting of terrorism. The group was formed in December 2015 by Saudi Arabia to create a pan-Islamic front against extremist activity. (Source: Arab News)

Cooperation with the United States

Kenya is one of six countries participating in the United States’ Security Governance Initiative (SGI), focusing on management, oversight, and accountability of security services. Kenya’s SGI priorities include border security, administration of justice, and police human resource management, with each area having a special focus on countering violent extremism. Kenyan civil society organizations are actively engaged in countering violent extremism (CVE) efforts. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

U.S. aid to Kenya—approximately $1 billion annually—has been intended to help Kenya develop economically and combat extremism militarily. The military portion of this aid seeks to enable Kenya to carry out more successful counter-extremist operations in the Horn of Africa. In July 2015, the U.S. government provided the Kenya Defense Force (KDF) with nearly $100 million to combat al-Shabaab. The Kenyan government used the funds to purchase equipment, training, and improve intelligence and logistics capabilities. (Sources: (Sources: Congressional Research Service, Daily Mail, AllAfrica)

On a visit to Kenya in 2015, then-U.S. President Barack Obama discussed increasing U.S. assistance to Kenyan security services to "improve intelligence capabilities." Part of $95 million in U.S. aid to the Kenyan military in 2015 was used to "enhance" intelligence and help Kenyan security forces "identify and target" al-Shabaab operatives. In December 2016, the United States gave the Kenyan government six of eight promised Huey II helicopters for use in counterterrorism activity by the Kenyan Air Force. (Sources: The Cipher Brief,, Congressional Research Service, Daily Mail, AllAfrica, Daily Nation, Government of Kenya, Defense News)

On February 10, 2020, the U.S. Department of State and the FBI announced that they have partnered with Kenya to establish the first ever Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) outside of the United States. The Kenya-led team will be based in Nairobi, will follow the U.S.-based JTTF structure of a multi-agency counterterrorism force, and receive continued support from an FBI Special Agent mentor. The creation of the Kenyan Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF-K) was initiated following an al-Shabaab attack on the DusitD2 Hotel in Nairobi on January 16, 2019 that left over 20 people dead. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington Post)

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) reportedly sought expanded authorities to launch drone strikes against al-Shabaab fighters in portions of eastern Kenya, according to the New York Times citing unnamed American officials. The new authorities, which need to be approved by the U.S. defense secretary and president, were requested in response to the January 5, 2020 attack that killed three Americans at the U.S.-Kenya Manda Bay Airfield. Though the United States has carried out a sustained drone operation in neighboring Somalia, military officials currently lack guidelines on such conduct in Kenya. As of 2023, 600 U.S. military personnel work at Camp Simba, Manda Bay Airfield. The personnel are primarily engaged in training and assistance.  (Sources: New York Times, U.S. Army)

Cooperation with the United Kingdom

The British army has trained 1,000 Kenyan military and police officers in the disposal of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) since 2015. During an August 2018 visit to Kenya, British Prime Minister Theresa May signed an agreement to further expand cooperation between the two countries. The agreement includes the expansion of a joint Kenyan-United Kingdom counterterrorism installation into a regional training facility on IED disposal. The facility is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2020. Under the agreement, the United Kingdom will also provide funding and material resources for Kenya to enhance its border and aviation security procedures. (Sources: Daily Nation,

Cooperation with Somalia

Al-Shabaab fighters have been reportedly crossing into Kenya through neighboring Somalia’s Bula Hawa border region. In early April 2016, local government representatives from both countries’ affected border regions met to discuss the issue. Both governments pledged to work together to fight terrorism and prevent cross-border crimes. Representatives of the respective governments met again the following year to continue discussing enhanced security relations and other bilateral issues. The two countries agreed to open two new border crossings and resume flights between Mogadishu and Nairobi. Kenya also committed to training Somali nurses and teachers, and to supporting technical training for at-risk Somali youth. The sides also agreed to continue regular meetings on bilateral relations. (Sources: Republic of Kenya Ministry of Foreign Affairs, AllAfrica, Daily Nation)

However, by December 2020, Somalia severed diplomatic ties with Kenya due to claims of Nairobi’s supposed meddling in Somalia’s internal affairs. Relations were restored by May 2021 after Qatari mediation, and in July 2022, following the election of Kenyan president William Ruto and the re-election of Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Nairobi and Mogadishu renewed their commitment to fighting terrorism by increasing the cooperation and coordination of their security agencies. (Sources: International Crisis Group, The New Arab, Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Cooperation with Israel

In February 2016, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to seek Israel’s support for Kenya’s counterterrorism efforts. Kenya was specifically interested in having Israel conduct “more overt” counterterrorism operations in the country and East African region. Cooperation between the two countries dates back to Operation Entebbe in 1976 when Kenya provided operational support to Israel during a hostage rescue mission in Uganda. Kenyatta was concerned about the safety of his country since the United States closed its drone base at Arba Minch in 2015 and stopped flying drones from Djibouti. Rivlin and Kenyatta agreed to further cooperation in the war against terrorism. Israeli Deputy Ambassador to Kenya Nadav Peldman stated that “Israel is ready and willing to assist Kenya…to fight terrorism.” Israeli security advisers reportedly provided Kenyan forces with strategic assistance during the 2015 Westgate Mall siege. (Sources: Guardian, Geeska Afrika, Haaretz, AllAfrica, Reuters)

Cooperation with Democratic Republic of Congo

On November 2, 2022, Kenya’s President William Ruto announced the deployment of Kenyan troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to assist the East African Community, an East African regional force comprised of seven countries aimed at taming bloodshed in the country. The regional force agreed in April 2022 to fight militia groups in Congo’s east, an area where more than 120 armed groups operate. (Source: Reuters)

Kenya continued its cooperation with the DRC on July 9, 2023, when the two countries, along with the Central African Republic (CAR), announced that they would join forces in the fight against terrorism. Accordingly, the countries will share intelligence and strengthen efforts to combat radicalism and violent extremism. (Source: Citizen Digital)

A survey released by Aga Khan University’s East African Institute in January 2016 suggests that the majority of Kenyan youth would do “anything to generate money and wealth regardless of its legality as long as they are not caught.” This is particularly worrisome as unemployment is one of the main factors luring Kenyan youth to join al-Shabaab. A State of National Security Annual Report to Parliament in 2016 found the terror group capitalizes on Kenya’s youth unemployment and feelings of marginalization to recruit. (Source: News24 Kenya)

In a Pew Research Center survey published in March 2013, approximately 55 percent of Kenyans believe that terrorism constitutes a major threat to the country. According to data from 2014, 66 percent of Kenyans support Kenyan military presence against al-Shabaab in Somalia. When asked to evaluate their government’s performance in fighting terrorism, however, 51 percent of those surveyed believed their government was handling it “Very/Fairly badly.” (Sources: Pew Research Center, Afro Barometer)

According to press reporting in June 2017, there were signs of increased public frustration with al-Shabaab’s continued ability to mount deadly attacks in Kenya. After a wave of attacks on security forces and civilians in northeastern Somalia between mid-May and early June 2017, five local officials in Garissa County threatened to arm civilians and blamed the national government for failing to protect them. A local member of parliament, Barre Shill, called on the national government to arm “the community” to defend itself against al-Shabaab because “we are not being protected.” Teachers and health workers who failed to report to work due to security fears added to the officials’ concerns. (Source: VOA News)

In 2018, the non-governmental organization Freedom House, in partnership with Real-Time Interactive Worldwide Intelligence (RIWI), conducted a survey regarding Kenya’s fight against terrorism. Of the 1,556 Kenyans surveyed, 22 percent believed politics were the leading perceived cause of violent extremism, while 16 percent of respondents believed ethnicity was a leading factor. Furthermore, 78 percent of respondents believe it is very important that the government follow the law when dealing with violent extremism, and 78 percent also believe it is very important that the government adhere to human rights principles in dealing with violent extremism. Additionally, the majority of respondents—71 percent—heavily favored the role of civil society in promoting democracy and fighting terrorism in Kenya. However, only 31 percent believed civil society organizations should be responsible for serving as a watchdog to ensure the government operates within the law. (Source: Freedom House)

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