Somalia

Kenya to 'Re-Integrate' Hundreds of Returning al-Shabab Recruits

Image via Fredrick Nzwili / RNS

Kenya has welcomed the return of 700 citizens who had joined Somalia’s al-Shabab militant group that has attacked churches, malls, and government institutions, most notably Garissa University College where nearly 150 people — mostly Christian students — were killed last spring.

The return of the Kenya nationals was reported by the Kenyan government, the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, and the International Organization for Migration.

“They will undergo rehabilitation, before being re-integrated into the community,” said Hassan Ole Naado, deputy general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.

Al-Shabab Militants Create Chaos, Pain for Somalis

Photo via Tonny Onyulo / USA Today / RNS
Nathar Abubakar (standing), 26, owned a shop in Mogadishu that was near the hotel. Photo via Tonny Onyulo / USA Today / RNS

Sitting under a veranda at the former headquarters of Somali Airlines, Ali Bashir sipped coffee and chewed khat, an African herb, as he recounted 15 years of anarchy fomented by al-Shabab Islamic terrorists.

“Life is very hard here,” he lamented.

“There’s nothing to eat and nowhere to work. But the rebels will come and still ask you for money.”

Since Somalia’s central government collapsed in the early 1990s, al-Shabab has emerged as the greatest threat to international efforts to rebuild the east African nation. The al-Qaida-linked militants extort, kidnap, stage terror attacks, and control remote areas of the countryside.

Al-Shabab gained renewed global attention last week, when a small band of militants massacred 148 people at Garissa University College in neighboring Kenya, where they singled out Christians for execution. In 2013, al-Shabab terrorists attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, murdering nearly 70.

In the wake of this month’s attack, Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called for more cooperation between Kenya and Somalia to eliminate al-Shabab, and Kenyan jets pounded two al-Shabab camps in Somalia.

Bashir, 28, who sold clothing before fleeing here, doubted the Somali government could do much about the terrorist group. He fled to the capital here a few years ago after al-Shabab seized control of a region in the south. He now lives in the old airlines headquarters with 1,000 other families.

“I have grown up in this country without knowing peace or stability,” said Bashir, a father of six.

At Least 147 Killed, Hundreds Rescued in Kenyan University Attack that Targeted Christians

Photo via REUTERS / Noor Khamis / RNS
A Kenya Defense Forces soldier stops a boy from moving toward Garissa on April 2, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Noor Khamis / RNS

Somalia’s al-Shabab militants shot and killed more than 147 people, wounded dozens of others and held hundreds hostage April 2 at Garissa University College in northeastern Kenya.

Five hundred of the hostages were reportedly rescued as the day went on, but it was unclear immediately whether the standoff had ended and exactly what the death and injury toll was.

The gunmen reportedly arrived at the university at 5:30 a.m., killed the guards at the gate and began shooting indiscriminately before taking hundreds of students hostage. The Kenyan military tried to end the siege and rescued hundreds of the hostages during a shootout.

Most of the hostages are believed to be Christians.

Pentagon: Airstrike Kills Terror Leader in Somalia

An overhead view of The Pentagon in 2008. Photo via David B. Gleason/Wikimedia Commons.

The Pentagon on Sept. 5 confirmed that the leader of al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked organization in Africa, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Somalia this week.

The leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, was targeted Sept. 1 in an airstrike that hit a vehicle and compound in a militant stronghold south of the capital, Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab has been linked to a number of attacks in Africa, including the bloody siege at the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013 that killed 67 people.

“Removing Godane from the battlefield is a major symbolic and operational loss to al-Shabab,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

At the time of the strike, the Pentagon said it could not confirm Godane’s death.

Would It Be Okay If You Hugged Me? What a Tearful Teenage Boy Taught Me About Advent

Ejwhite/Shutterstock
Ejwhite/Shutterstock

I flew to Houston over the weekend to speak at the Conspire Conference. I stood on a stage looking out over a few hundred students in grades 6-12, telling them my story of having breast cancer in my 20s.

I talked to them about what a dark season of life it was for me. The chemo and radiation were difficult, but on top of that I also lost a good friend to cancer, I was out of work for seven months, while in my apartment building’s parking lot, my car was hit by a truck, and my boyfriend broke up with me. After all of that, I ended up in the hospital with a raging lung infection and a good chance that I would die.

On the nights I spent in the hospital, I’d lie awake and stare at the ceiling and wonder where God was. “Do you see me? Do you love me? Do you care about what’s happening in my life?” I prayed. “And if you see me and love me and care about my life, why don’t you come down and make this all go away?” 

Hellfire from Above

ON THE AFTERNOON of Dec. 14, President Obama stood in the White House press room, tears in his eyes, and spoke for many Americans who had watched the terrifying events unfolding in Newtown, Conn.

“I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do. The majority of those who died today were children: beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old,” he said. “They had their entire lives ahead of them—birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.”

A little more than a month later, on Jan. 23, a pilotless aircraft owned and operated by the United States and controlled remotely by an individual on U.S. soil launched a targeted attack on the riders of two motorcycles in Yemen. The attack missed its target. It hit the house of Abdu Mohammed al-Jarrah instead, killing several people—including al-Jarrah’s two children.

There was no press conference for the al-Jarrah children.

It was President Obama himself, in fact, after his inauguration in 2009, who authorized an expansion of the U.S. drone program launched under George W. Bush. The “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” passed shortly after Sept. 11, gives the president broad authority to use force against those involved in the 9/11 attacks or those who harbor them. Drones have become President Obama’s weapon of choice.

The first reported drone strike against al Qaeda occurred in Yemen in 2002. U.S. covert drone strikes have killed more than 3,000 people since 2004, in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Of that number, nearly 1,000 were civilians—including an estimated 200 children. (The U.S. military has also used drones in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.)

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The Man in Row 26

In the weeks and months to come, thousands of refugees will walk quietly down jetways into worlds they've never imagined.

OUR PLANE SITS at the gate in Brussels well past our departure time. Slowly, the empty seats fill with Somali refugees whose flight a day earlier had been cancelled. After a night in the airport, they slide wearily into scattered seats.

Ten years together in a refugee camp in Uganda has melded the group into a close-knit family. What do they feel now, I wonder, knowing that on the other end of this flight they will scatter, not to empty seats but to unknown cities throughout the U.S.? From Syracuse to San Francisco, they will look upon a world they have never imagined. “When will I see my friend?” one little girl asks, not realizing she and her friend will live half a continent apart.

I watch a man a few rows ahead of me. I learn from his friend that he suffers from headaches. I know enough about refugees to realize headaches will likely be the least of his challenges. He and his family will face a confusing culture, strange language, unfamiliar religious practices, unknown yet required skills, and new technology—from flush toilets to garage door openers, from light switches to iPads. Then they’ll have to sort out schools and jobs and health care. They’ll be starting over, basically, with nothing.

Almost nothing. One suitcase per person contains the bit of their past they carry into their future. These slim and elegant humans are traveling very light. Unless, of course, you count the weighty baggage of war and displacement.

I talk with the striking Parisian who facilitates their travel. “They are so grateful the plane waited for them,” she says quietly. Grateful. After fleeing their homeland in desperation. After 10 years in a “temporary” camp. After hunger and disease. After leaving everything that’s familiar. After cancelled flights and cots in airport corridors. Grateful.

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Summary for June

One of the most respected sources of investigative reporting on drones is The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a non-profit organization based in London. As part of its research, TBIJ tracks drone strikes and other US military and paramilitary actions in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Yesterday, TBIJ released its summary for June. The major conclusions:

  • As relations between Washington and Islamabad continue to falter, Bureau data shows fewer civilians are being killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan than at any time in the Obama presidency.
  • US military action in Yemen is at its bloodiest ever, with the strike rate and reported casualties the highest yet recorded.
  • The true extent of US action in Somalia remain unclear, despite many claims of attacks.

The report also provides a comparison of the first six months of this year with 2011.

DRONE WATCH: U.S. Declassifies Counter-terror Military Campaigns

The Associated Press reports: 

"The White House’s semiannual report to Congress on the state of U.S. combat operations abroad, delivered Friday, mentions what has been widely reported for years but never formally acknowledged by the administration: The U.S. military has been taking “direct action” against members of al-Qaida and affiliates in Yemen and Somalia.

The report does not elaborate, but “direct action” is a military term of art that refers to a range of lethal attacks, which in the case of Yemen and Somalia include attacks by armed drones. … The report applies only to U.S. military operations, including those by special operations forces — not those conducted by the CIA."

Another step toward greater transparency, which can hopefully lead to greater accountability.

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