Overview: In 2021, Kenya continued to suffer terrorist attacks primarily along the Kenyan Somali border. IEDs and ambushes targeting Kenyan security forces and important infrastructure were the primary means of attack. Indiscriminate IED attacks on roads used by Kenyan security forces have resulted in numerous additional civilian casualties. While Kenyan security forces were the principal targets, teachers and key infrastructure also were targeted. Though large-scale attacks decreased with the onset of COVID-19, possibly because of pandemic countermeasures such as travel restrictions and lockdowns, al-Shabaab has maintained a consistent operational tempo in the border region.
A member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Kenya plays a leading role in regional CT cooperation. The Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) continued to participate in AMISOM and supported border security and counter-IED efforts within Kenya. Security services responded to numerous terrorist incidents, while also disrupting al-Shabaab and ISIS attack planning, recruitment, and travel. Reports of human rights violations and abuses by security forces during CT operations continued, including allegations of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture. However, Kenyan security forces demonstrated improved procedures regarding protection of human rights in response to terrorist threats and attacks.
2021 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorist incidents in 2021 included the following:
- On January 16, suspected al-Shabaab (AS) operatives attacked the village of Waco Dadacha in Mandera, 150 kilometers from the Kenya-Somalia border. During the five hour siege, one civilian was killed, one injured, and significant property damaged.
- On March 24, four persons were killed and 10 wounded (four critically), when a bus operating between the cities of Lafey and Mandera hit an IED planted on a busy highway in Mandera County.
- On July 2, AS operatives killed three nonlocal construction workers and wounded one in Dhobley, Garissa County, near the Somalia border.
- On October 12, six KDF personnel were wounded, one seriously, when their vehicle detonated an al-Shabaab IED in Lamu County.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Kenya’s government continued to rely on the Prevention of Terrorism Act (amended in 2014) to investigate and prosecute terrorism. Crowded court dockets and the lack of continuous trials slowed progress on many terrorism proceedings. However, 2021 saw the opening of the U.S.-funded Kahawa Law Court in Nairobi. This secure courthouse is a dedicated resource for bringing suspected terrorists to trial and has heard numerous cases.
Despite successes, challenges persist. Access to defense counsel for terrorism suspects is limited because the government has not fully funded the National Legal Aid Service. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has been working to develop a uniform and consistent nationwide policy on plea negotiations. The use of plea agreements could provide a mechanism for cooperation of lower-level accomplices against higher-level terrorism suspects. Both CT focused prosecutors and judges have begun using plea agreements in proceedings.
CT functions are divided among the three branches of the National Police Service: 1) the Kenya Police Service (including the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU); the Traffic Police; and the regional, county, and local police); 2) the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (including the investigative Antiterrorism Police Unit, the Bomb Disposal Unit, and the Cyber Forensics Investigative Unit); and 3) the Administration Police (including the Border Police Unit).
The National Intelligence Service, elements of the KDF, and the interagency also shared responsibility for CT functions. Uneven coordination, resource constraints, insufficient training, corruption, and unclear command and control continue to hinder CT effectiveness. Kenya’s National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) continued to work with private security companies on preventing soft target attacks. Kenya’s interagency Joint Terrorism Task Force began operations and made its first arrest on November 13.
Kenyan officials continued to work to secure the nation’s porous land borders to prevent terrorist exploitation, but hurdles remain. While aviation safety and security at Nairobi’s international airport and at several points of entry have improved with the establishment of Joint Operations Centers, watchlist screening and basic equipment at smaller ports of entry were generally lacking.
The Kenyan government worked to prevent the transit of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs), including Kenyans attempting to join AS or ISIS, and those returning from abroad. Kenyan security services also detected and deterred terrorist plots and responded to dozens of terrorism related incidents. The Kenyan government cooperated on threat information and security at Embassy Nairobi, including through a dedicated GSU CT response team funded by the United States.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Kenya is a member of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG). Kenya helped host a regional counterterrorism financing (CTF) meeting in Nairobi in November, during which Kenyan officials explored expanding CTF collaboration with their Djiboutian and Somali counterparts.
Countering Violent Extremism: The NCTC’s County Action Plans for CVE in all 47 counties continue to be the primary framework for U.S. and other international CVE programming at the local level, but implementation of action plans in many counties remained hampered by a lack of
funding. Police in Nairobi, coastal, and northeastern counties participated in community engagement training and early warning and response programs. Prison and justice sector stakeholders improved handling of terrorist suspects and convicts, and judicial officials worked to improve management of remand prisoners through plea bargaining and other methods. Kenya’s second largest city, Mombasa, is an active member of the Strong Cities Network.
International and Regional Cooperation: Nairobi hosts the UN headquarters in Africa. The KDF continued its participation in AMISOM and is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Although not a member, Kenya participated in regional meetings of the GCTF.