Kenya turns to home in Shabaab crackdown

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 21, 2011 10:59 AM
Kenya turns to home in Shabaab crackdown

By Humphrey Malalo and Sahra Abdi

NAIROBI/MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Kenya charged two doctors Friday with being members of Somalia's al Shabaab militant group, intensifying a crackdown against the rebels as its troops pressed on with a cross-border operation in Somalia.

After a spate of kidnappings against foreigners that have threatened the East African country's major tourism industry, Kenyan troops moved suddenly into Somalia to secure the porous border from al Qaeda-linked rebels.

Kenya has long looked nervously at its anarchic neighbor and has launched some brief incursions in the past, but this operation is on a much larger scale that raises the risk of reprisals from al Shabaab who have proven capable of deadly suicide attacks within and outside Somalia.

As Kenyan and Somali government troops tried to secure militant strongholds in the south of the country, Kenyan security forces turned their attention within their own borders and arrested two doctors in a Nairobi neighborhood with a large Somali community.

"Ali Omar Salim and Adan Hassan Hillow were charged with engaging in organized criminal activity on or before October 20 in Nairobi ... (and) found engaging in an organized criminal activity by being members of al Shabaab," their charge sheet at Nairobi chief magistrate's court said.

Deputy police spokesman Charles Owino said the two had been detained in the Eastleigh suburb -- which has a large Somali population from both Kenya and Somalia -- earlier this week.

"We are cracking down everywhere. Within the country and in Somalia," Owino said.

Reuters reporters have in the past seen al Shabaab fighters in Eastleigh, sometimes returning for medical treatment, and Somali parents living there complain that some mosques actively recruit youths to fight for al Shabaab.

HEAVY RAINS PAUSE FIGHTING

Friday, a delegation that includes Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula, Defense Minister Yusuf Haji and the head of Kenya's defense forces, General Julius Karangi, travelled to Addis Ababa for an emergency meeting of regional grouping IGAD to discuss developments in Somalia.

In southern Somalia, a spokesman for Ras Kamboni, a militia nominally allied to the government, said heavy rains had prevented troops from advancing much further.

"We have not taken a step further today. It is raining," Abdinasir Serar told Reuters. Al Shabaab fighters have hunkered down in the rebel bastion of Afmadow where residents are bracing for a confrontation between the two sides.

Burundi confirmed Friday it had lost six soldiers during a heavy battle Thursday to drive out al Shabaab from one of the last remaining pockets of Mogadishu. Al Shabaab said it had killed dozens of soldiers, claims denied by the peacekeepers.

Burundi and Uganda have some 9,000 troops serving as part of an African Union force which, along with Somalia's Western-backed government troops, is battling an insurgency launched by al Shabaab in 2007. Under sustained pressure from the two forces, the militants, suffering from internal rifts and funding shortages, were forced out of most of the capital in August.

However, the militants have still managed to carry out deadly attacks against government institutions. Earlier this month they carried out the worst attack on Somali soil since 2007 -- a suicide truck bombing that killed more than 70 people.

(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu; Duncan Miriri in Nairobi; Patrick Nduwimana in Bujumbura; writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Rosalind Russell)