NAIROBI, Kenya — Britain issued a warning of an imminent terrorist attack in Nairobi as Somalia’s Islamist militants plot revenge attacks following an invasion by the Kenyan army nearly three months ago.
“We believe that terrorists may be in the final stages of planning attacks,” the UK Foreign Office said in a statement issued over the weekend. It said Kenyan authorities believed there was a heightened threat of attacks in the capital. “Attacks could be indiscriminate and target Kenyan institutions as well as places where expatriates and foreign travellers gather, such as hotels, shopping centres and beaches."
Kenya invaded southern Somalia in mid-October in a bid to defeat the Shabaab and insists it is making good progress. A spokesman said that an airstrike on Friday killed 60 militants. Colonel Cyrus Oguna said that as many as 700 Shabaab fighters and only four civilians have been killed since the war began, a claim that is impossible to verify and dismissed by the Shabaab.
More on GlobalPost: Kenyan air strikes kill ’60 or more’ Somali militants
Kenya’s decision to invade Somalia followed a string of kidnappings of foreigners. The Shabaab denies any involvement in the kidnapping and has threatened retaliation for the invasion. The group proved itself willing and able to launch attacks outside Somalia with the July 2010 coordinated suicide bombings in Uganda that killed 76 football fans as they watched the World Cup final.
In Kenya the blowback has already been felt. Tourist numbers fell during the usually busy Christmas holiday season while around 30 people have been killed in separate grenade and gun attacks in the northeast of the country as well as in the capital since the October invasion. But the kind of terrorist spectacular that has been feared — targeting a busy shopping mall or hotel popular with foreigners and wealthy Kenyans — has yet to occur.
Kenya has suffered terrorist attacks in the past. In 1998 Al Qaeda cells targeted the US embassy in Nairobi, killing hundreds, and in 2002, 15 people died when a Mombasa hotel was bombed, while an attempt to shoot down a passenger jet failed.
The mastermind of these attacks, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, was Al Qaeda’s head in East Africa and a senior Shabaab commander until his death in a shoot-out in Mogadishu in June last year.
More on GlobalPost: Somali al Shabaab rebels join Twitter