Country Report on Terrorism 2020 - Chapter 1 - Kenya


Overview: In 2020, Kenya continued to suffer terrorist attacks primarily along the Kenyan-Somali border.  The most notable attack — which demonstrated al-Shabaab’s ability to conduct complex operations in Kenya — occurred on January 5, when AS fighters attacked the United States Armed Forces’ Camp Simba in Manda Bay.  IEDs and ambushes targeting Kenyan security forces and important infrastructure were the primary means of attack in the border regions.  While Kenyan security forces were the principal targets, nonlocal teachers, other nonlocal professional, and key infrastructure were also targeted.  The frequency of terrorist attacks decreased after the onset of COVID-19 in March.

Kenya is a willing U.S. partner in CT investigation, prosecution, and incident response and plays a leading role in regional CT cooperation.  The Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) continued to participate in AMISOM and supported border security and counter-IED efforts within Kenya.  Security services responded to numerous terrorist incidents, while also disrupting AS and ISIS attack planning, recruitment, and travel.  Reports of human rights violations and abuses by security forces during CT operations continued, including allegations of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and torture.  Kenyan security forces continued to demonstrate improved procedures in line with its international human rights obligations and commitments for protection of human rights in response to terrorist threats and attacks.

2020 Terrorist Incidents:  Terrorist incidents in 2020 included the following:

  • On January 5, AS operatives attacked Camp Simba at Manda Bay.  They killed three Americans and destroyed aircraft and infrastructure.
  • On January 13, suspected AS operatives killed three nonlocal teachers and destroyed a communications mast and police post in Kamuthe, Garissa County.
  • On July 9, 20 AS gunmen attacked and destroyed a communication mast in Garissa County.
  • On September 21, AS operatives attacked a KDF convoy with small arms and grenades in Mandera County.  One KDF soldier and five AS operatives were killed.
  • On October 6, eight civilians were injured when suspected AS operatives attacked a highway bus with small arms in Mandera County.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Kenya’s government continued to use the Prevention of Terrorism Act (amended in 2014) to investigate and prosecute terrorism.  Crowded court dockets and the lack of continuous trials slowed progress on many terrorism trials.  However, 2020 saw some closure to the criminal proceedings in connection with the Westgate Mall attack of 2013.  A court found two men involved in this attack — Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hussein Hassan Mustafah — guilty of conspiracy to commit terrorism and aiding AS. The court sentenced them to prison for 33 years and 18 years, respectively. A third man, Liban Abdullah Omar, was acquitted.  Despite successes, challenges persist. Access to defense counsel for terrorism suspects is limited because the government has not fully funded the National Legal Aid Service.  The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has been working to develop a uniform and consistent nationwide policy on plea negotiations.  The use of plea agreements could provide a mechanism for lower-level accomplices to cooperate against higher-level terrorism suspects.

Pending a proposed reorganization, CT functions are divided among the three branches of the National Police Service:  1) the Kenya Police Service (including the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU); the Traffic Police; and regional, county, and local police); 2) the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (including the investigative Antiterrorism Police, Bomb Disposal, and Cyber Forensics Investigative Units); and 3) the Administration Police (including the Border Police Unit).  The National Intelligence Service, elements of the KDF, and other Kenyan interagency stakeholders also shared responsibility.  Uneven coordination, resource constraints, insufficient training, corruption, and unclear command and control continue to hinder CT effectiveness.  Kenya’s National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) continued to work with private security companies to prevent soft target attacks.  Kenya’s interagency Joint Terrorism Task Force has begun operations.

Terrorists continued to exploit Kenya’s porous land borders to conduct attacks.  In 2020, Kenyan officials continued to work to secure the border, but hurdles remain.  Under a 2018 arrangement that is being finalized, Kenya is anticipated to receive U.S. Automated Targeting System-Global (ATS-G) software, which facilitates screening of air travelers using API/PNR.  If deployed, ATS-G ideally would be integrated with PISCES, the U.S. government-provided frontline border management system, enhancing the capabilities of both systems to target potential threats and counter terrorist travel.  However, the passage of a data protection law in 2019 has delayed implementation of ATS-G.  While measures have been taken to improve aviation safety and security at Nairobi’s international airport and at several points of entry with the establishment of Joint Operations Centers to promote information sharing, watchlist screening and basic equipment at smaller ports of entry were generally lacking.

The Kenyan government worked to prevent the transit of FTFs, including Kenyans attempting to join AS or ISIS and those returning from abroad.  Kenyan security services also detected and deterred terrorist plots and responded to dozens of terrorism-related incidents.  The Kenyan government cooperated on threat information and security at Embassy Nairobi, including through a dedicated GSU CT response team funded by the United States.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Kenya is a member of ESAAMLG.  There were no significant updates in 2020.

Countering Violent Extremism: Through the NCTC Kenya has established County Action Plans for CVE in all 47 counties to further implement its National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism.  While County Action Plans continued to be the primary framework for U.S. and other international CVE programming at the local level, implementation of action plans in many counties remained hampered by a lack of funding. Police in Nairobi, coastal, and northeastern counties participated in community engagement training and early warning and response programs.  Prison and justice sector stakeholders improved handling of terrorist suspects and convicts, and judicial officials are working to improve management of remand prisoners through plea bargaining and other methods.  Kenya’s second largest city, Mombasa, is an active member of the Strong Cities Network.

International and Regional Cooperation: Nairobi hosts the UN headquarters in Africa.  The KDF continued participation in AMISOM.  Although not a member, Kenya participated in regional meetings of the Global Counterterrorism Task Force.