NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 25, (Agencies): About 200 Islamic extremist fighters have split from Somalia’s Al-Shebab rebels, who are allied to al-Qaeda, and have instead pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, Kenya’s police chief said Thursday. The splinter group is operating around the Somali border in Kenya’s north, and has carried out at least two attacks in the last two weeks, killing one soldier and two civilians in Mandera County, Joseph Boinett told The Associated Press.
The split in Al-Shebab poses an extra challenge for Kenya’s security forces, Boinnet said. Among those who have joined the pro-IS faction of Al-Shebab is Mohamed Kuno, alias Gamadhere, who is wanted for the April 2 attack by Al-Shebab gunmen on a Kenya’s Garissa University in the country’s east, in which 148 people were killed, Boinnet said. Al-Shebab has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops to Somalia to fight the Islamic extremists. Kenya has experienced a series of Al-Shebab attacks since it sent its troops to Somalia in 2011.
The defections are causing tensions within Al-Shebab. Two men, an American citizen and US resident defected, defected from Al-Shebab and surrendered to Somali authorities earlier this month fearing they would killed by their former colleagues on suspicion that they are IS supporters. Al- Qaeda and Islamic State are rivals for jihadi recruits. Meanwhile, Kenyan police warned Thursday of the risk of attacks by Islamist Shebab insurgents claiming they had split into rival factions, with some shifting allegiance from al-Qaeda to Islamic State.
“They have split, and as a result of the split, particularly those ones along ideological lines or religious lines are very keen to promote that competition by proving a point,” police chief Joseph Boinnet told reporters Thursday, as Kenyans prepare to celebrate Christmas in the east African nation. “They plan to prove a point by staging attacks,” Boinnet added, without giving more specific details. “That makes us in real and present danger of being hit by those murderous elements.” The Shebab, East Africa’s long-time al-Qaeda branch, is headquartered in Somalia where it is fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu, which is protected by 22,000 African Union troops, including Kenyan soldiers.