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Kenyan experts root for better anti-terror intelligence

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-11-24 20:58

NAIROBI - The horrific terror attack that claimed 28 civilians in Kenya's Mandera County on Saturday is a confirmation the east African nation remains a soft target for militants from neighboring Somalia.

Kenyan officials confirmed that Somalia terror group Al-Shabaab hijacked a Nairobi-bound bus several kilometers from Mandera town and killed passengers based on their religious affiliation.

Following Al-Shabaab's latest attack in Mandera County, experts and ordinary civilians stressed that a revamp of the entire security architecture was urgent to defeat terrorism.

Mwenda Mbijiwe, a security analyst regretted that Kenya's vulnerability to terrorism remains high thanks to weak border surveillance and failure to act on timely intelligence reports.

During a live debate at a national television station, Mbijiwe emphasized that Kenya must revamp intelligence gathering, enhance community policing and border patrols to minimize terror attacks.

"The Mandera terrorist attack exposed our soft underbelly and it seems lessons of the past have not sunk in our collective psyche as a nation. We must adopt new strategies to slay the dragon of terror," Mbijiwe said.

Kenya was cited by a recent global report to be among the top five countries in Africa grappling with terrorism. The East African nation has suffered terror attacks since 1998 and the menace spiked in 2011 when its troops launched an onslaught against Al-Shabaab inside Somalia. Kenyan Defense Forces were credited for degrading Al-Shabaab though the insurgents are still vicious.

Mbijiwe said the death of Al-Shabaab kingpins has dealt a huge blow to the terrorist network but Kenyan security forces should not be complacent.

"By cutting off key sources of funding and eliminating the masterminds, we have undermined the capacity for Al-shabaab to state a devastating attack. However, vigilance should not be relaxed since the militants are still roaming along the vast and porous border with Somalia," said Mbijiwe.

Kenya should replicate models on effective intelligence gathering from Israel, China and the United States to deter terror attacks. Mbijiwe noted that though terror is a global challenge, some countries have contained it thanks to investments in surveillance technology and efficient coordination among security agencies.

"Officers from the national intelligence service should not operate from the offices. They should penetrate the grassroots to collect real-time information to help foil terrorists' plots," Mbijiwe noted.

Kenya's vast and lawless border with Somalia has provided a safe passage for Al-shabaab militants and their collaborators. Mbijiwe emphasized that Kenya must retrain and equip border patrol guards to enable them to apprehend infiltrators.

"Heavily armed militants are able to shuttle between Somalia and Kenya to carry out their evil mission. We must enhance patrols at this porous borders," said Mbijjiwe.

Kenya has lost an estimated 200 people from terrorism in 2014. Senor officials said on Saturday that a major offensive was launched to nab the militants who killed bus passengers in Mandera. Leaders from across the political and religious divide expressed outrage over the slaughter of innocent civilians.

"Mandera has recorded the highest incidents of terror attacks after Mombasa and Nairobi this year. We have raised this issue to authorities before yet the response has not been robust," said Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow, urging security personnel to act promptly on intelligence reports about impending terror attack.

Pundits who spoke to the national media after Mandera terror attack regretted that haphazard response to this challenge was to blame for untimely loss of lives.

"Our response to the threat of terrorism is not coherent and there is need to invest more in deterrent measures. We must address inter-tribal skirmishes that have provided a bleeding ground for terrorism in the northern rangelands," remarked Benji Ndolo, a political analyst.

Andrew Frankline, a security analyst shared Ndolo's sentiments, and stressed that Kenyan security apparatus must reinvent the wheel in order to combat terrorism effectively.

"Apparently, terrorists have acquired a certain level of sophistication to enable them to evade the security dragnet. The public should share intelligence on terror suspects living in their midst," Frankline said.

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