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Women: New face of terrorism in Kenya

Three women were killed in Kenya after they attacked a police station. Experts say the presence
of women on the front line of terrorism means that the extremists' tactics are changing.

The attack in Mombasa last weekend was the first after a quiet period. Meanwhile, the regional
fight against terrorism continues with heads of state from the Horn of Africa region scheduled to
meet on Tuesday in Somalia's capital Mogadishu for the 53rd summit of the Intergovernmental
Authority on Development (IGAD). There they will address different issues, among them
security within the region. The growing role of women as active fighters presents them with a
new challenge.
Origins of al-Shabab
After the Somali government collapsed in 1991, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) provided legal
systems and evolved to offer more services, including education and security. In the beginning,
the ICU maintained law and order and that made them popular among Somalis. In 2006, the
Ethiopians arrived in Somalia to support the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in stopping
the extremists. The ICU broke up into smaller and more violent extremist groups from which the
al-Shabab was born. Speaking to DW, Stig Jarle Hansen - an expert on al-Shabab and Islamism
on the Horn of Africa - points out that one of the main goals of the al-Shabab is to gain control of
Somalia.

Spread and radicalization


The group didnt just stay within Somalia. As regional extremism grew, fuelled by an increased
openness to al-Qaeda philosophy, al-Shabab went on to recruit new members from Kenya,
Uganda and Tanzania. This brought terror to these countries, as we saw happen in July 2010 in
Uganda during the World Cup final game. There has also been a rise in terror-related activities in
Tanzania in 2015, according to a report released earlier this year by IGAD.
Al-Shabab has increasingly targeted women and children for terrorist radicalization to use them
for attacks in the region. Radicalized people no longer identify with their country and are used to
carry out attacks against their fellow citizens. According to the IGAD report, the number of
women ready to join jihadist groups is growing. And one way they are lured to join is by offering
them a pillar of strength when they have personal problems. The women are also promised travel
documents and all-expenses-paid trips.
Expert Stig Hansen told DW that the extremists have other strategies too. "I think very often
whats scary with the al-Shabab inside Kenya and with their Kenyan affiliates is that they
basically use aspects of the truth that they twist and turn. There are property conflicts along the
Kenyan coast and these property conflicts havent been properly addressed by the Kenyan
government," he said. This is one example for how al-Shabab exploits conflicts to instigate
mistrust.

Kenyan police cordon off a police station in Mombasa after a terror attack.

Women and terrorism


This is the first time in Kenya that women have been used to carry out an attack against a police
station in broad daylight. The attack that happened on September 11 at Mombasa police station
has been linked to Jaysh Al Ayman, which is an affiliate of al-Shabab.
This means that extremism in Africa is starting to include women as active fighters. According to
Hansen, until now women had taken a back seat in al-Shabab operations. Jihadist women in
Somalia had been used mainly to provide operational assistance. He adds that elsewhere in the
region the women are being used to recruit members in the diaspora.
"You also have this strange phenomenon where you actually have a magazine for female jihadist
called Al-Ghuraba that has been produced in Dar el Salam in Tanzania," he said. The magazine
publishes articles on how to behave if you are a female supporting the jihadists. "What to do,
how to dress, how to provide logistics or support. So there are special signs there that seem to
indicate that the role of the female has been strengthened," he said.
Zureiya Mohammed, a Muslim human rights activist, agrees that the situation is changing.
Speaking to DW she said that over the last few years, she has been dealing with the issue of
terrorism and she is aware that women have been ever more active on the international front.
"Unfortunately, this is with us now," she said.
A history of terrorism
Kenyas experience with terror attacks didnt start with the al-Shabab in 2011. In 1975, the first
bomb exploded in Nairobi since its independence in 1963. A blast in a bus killed at least 30
people. But despite a public outcry, there were no arrests made and no one ever claimed
responsibility for the attack.
In 1980, a second attack happened in Kenya when a bomb destroyed the Norfolk Hotel owned by
Jews. The attack was claimed by an Arab group that said they were retaliating against Kenya for
allowing Israeli troops to refuel in Nairobi during an air raid on Entebbe Airport in Uganda four
years earlier. But the attacks that drew international attention were the 1998 explosions at the US
embassies in both Nairobi and Dar-es-Salam by al-Qaida.
Al-Shabab now resists the presence of the Kenyan army in Somalia and have retaliated against
Kenyas attempt to help stabilize their country. They have organized a series of attacks within
Kenyan borders. There were two dramatic attacks: one in September 2014, when they lay siege
to the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi; and the second, in April 2015, an attack at Garissa
University that stunned the country.

Impact on the economy


Following the attacks, the economy suffered because people were scared of being in public
places where lots of business is conducted. Embassies issued alerts to people travelling to Kenya.
Victims suffered psychological trauma which also had a short-term effect on business. According
to the tourism board of Kenya, in 2014 the number of visitors was 381,278, but the figure fell to
284,313 in 2015.
Hansen believes that one of the reasons for such attacks is to hit Kenya where it hurts most. "The
tourist industry is so important for Kenyans, so they are hitting at the strategic industry inside
Kenya by creating some kind of insecurity," he said.