As police announced the killing of two gunmen believed to have participated in last Sunday’s church massacre, a multi-sectional taskforce investigating the attack now believes Nairobi-based Al Hijra group, which is the Kenyan affiliate of Al Shabaab, ordered the killings.
Sources say Al Hijra’s Mombasa cell members committed the violent act on the orders of Kenya’s Al Shabaab leader, Ahmed Iman Ali.
The activities of Al Hijra in Mombasa, Nairobi and other parts of East Africa were also cited in a UN Monitoring Report for Somalia in July last year, which warned that the al- Shabaab affiliate was being coordinated by followers of the late radical Islamist Sheikh Aboud Rogo. These include a prominent terrorism suspect associated with British terror suspect Jermaine Grant.
Apparently, Iman Ali, who also leads Al Hijra and is said to be living in Yemen after fleeing southern Somalia, ordered the attack and asked Mombasa Al Hijra cellmates to carry it out.
Intelligence reports from National Intelligence Services (NIS) lend credence to this theory. They show that for close to a year, al-Qaeda affiliates in Kenya have identified churches as targets, especially in Mombasa and Kwale.
The cell mates include old al- Shabaab suspects as well as recent returnees from Somalia. Towards the end of last year, Suleiman Mwayuyu from Kwale, who was killed in January, is believed to have spearheaded attacks on churches in Kisauni, Likoni and Kwale.
The intelligence reports indicate that some of the targets include churches in Likoni, Kwale and Changamwe area of Mombasa County. The attacks in Likoni were to be committed by a hit squad that has been operating in Mombasa for some years, and which has been responsible for most grenade and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) attacks in the area.
On August 3, 2013 the spy agency reported that Al Shabaab commander Ahmed Iman had sneaked into the country from Yemen through the Kenya-Tanzania border to coordinate the attacks.
According to the briefs, Iman was expected to team up with two Tanzanian Al Shabaab operatives, Juma Seif and Ibrahim Hussein, “to strategise on how to launch terror attacks within Coast, Nairobi and north Eastern.”
Reports indicate Mombasa’s al- Shabaab members, led by a relative of the late al-Qaeda operative Saleh Nabhan, had by August 16, 2013 begun for firearms and hand grenades for the attacks. Eight days before that on August 8, the intelligence briefs pointed that two Tanzanian nationals — Juma Seif and Ibrahim Hussein — who are Al Shabaab operatives, were attending meetings at Masjid Musa Mosque in Majengo, Mombasa.
Intelligence reports indicated that Iman was also to link up with a group of eight other Al Shabaab operatives that had been dispatched by one Iise, a Somali national believed to be the leader of the Al Shabaab wing called the martyrdom brigade.
Reports indicate that the eight arrived in the country at the beginning of July last year. Their targets were hotels and Western embassies.
Meanwhile, the late Saleh’s relative was tasked with the responsibility to get firearms and hand grenades.
This was also the time slain Sheikh Ibrahim Amru was calling on youths to support jihad at Masjid Minaa in Kisauni, according to the briefs prepared on June 25 last year.
In the same period, two radical priests preaching at Masjid Chelsea and Maratib mosques in Eastleigh, Nairobi, and who cannot be named for legal reasons, were making several trips to Mombasa to indoctrinate Islamic youth at Masjid Minaa and Masjid Musa.
Consequently, it is that period (June-August) that a key terror suspect based in Mombasa was having direct contact with the local Al Shabaab returnees from Somalia.
The brief indicated that the operatives were targeting Jesus Celebration Centre (JCC) in Bamburi area for possible terror attacks during vigil prayers (kesha).
The Standard on Sunday can, however, report that prior to the attack on the Joy of Jesus church in Likoni and the discovery of the booby-trapped car in Mombasa on March 17, there has been an escalation in terror threats reporting dating as far back as June last year.
Two months ago, an alert was issued at the Moi International Airport over possible attacks. Officials at the facility indicate that security alert was raised to red –the highest alert.
Some churches have been receiving warnings over planned attacks but evangelical clerics say that this information is never shared with them.
“We have never received intelligence over planned attacks. We ask the police to also start sharing with us such information,” said Reverend Stanley Wanari of the Church of Truth International in Likoni.
Earlier in February, some church leaders received text messages warning them of possible terror attacks on churches in Changamwe, Likoni and Kisauni areas.
On Saturday, a group of church leaders in Mombasa said the tactics and the ideologies that drive the attack on churches and car-bombs were similar to those employed by the Yemeni-based extremist militant group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Police have also extended their hunt for those behind the church attack into Kwale County, which borders Tanzania, giving credence to reports by locals that the attackers fled towards the road leading to the Lunga Lunga boarder post.