In the three weeks since the deadliest attack yet by al-Shabaab Islamist militants on Kenyan soil, authorities in Nairobi have frozen bank accounts of 86 Muslim entities, stopped the local operations of Somali money transfer companies and threatened to oust 350,000 refugees.But there are signs that its heavy-handed crackdown has backfired. “The very same people who are crucial to co-operation over counter-terrorism are being targeted,” says Khelef Khalifa, chairman at Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri), whose office was raided last week.
“We have been treated like second-class citizens — the whole community has been condemned as terrorists,” he adds. “Every time you want to co-operate with the government they treat us like an enemy; it is very difficult for any Muslim now.”
His comments get to the heart of the dilemma Nairobi faces. Authorities there believe Kenyans led and financed the jihadi massacre that targeted Christians and claimed 148 lives at Garissa university on April 2, bringing to 400 the number of people killed in Kenya by al-Shabaab in the past two years.
While the al-Qaeda linked group has its base in neighbouring Somalia, it increasingly targets Kenya and relies on Kenyan membership. Some 5m Somalis live in Kenya. In an attempt to stem terrorism that President Uhuru Kenyatta says is “deeply embedded in our communities”, Nairobi is now focusing on radicalisation at home
Mr Khalifa’s organisation, which draws funding from western donors, is among those the government listed this month as associated with al-Shabaab, a claim he denies. The group, which regularly accuses the police of abusing Muslims’ rights, argues that their marginalisation is among the chief causes of radicalisation. He says recruitment by al-Shabaab of Kenyan youth is increasing as a direct result of government policies.