Al-Shabaab, a Somali terror group, has been making waves in a big way in Kenya over the last several days.
On Tuesday, the Islamist organization took control of a village only nine miles from a military base, and today leaders from Isiolo County, in the northwest of the country, have asked the Kenyan government to investigate armed men, believed to be linked to al-Shabaab, who have erected roadblocks and are collecting “taxes” from locals.
Residents of Warankara, the village al-Shabaab is occupying, say that militants are patrolling the streets, occasionally preaching their form of Islam and hatred of the West.
They have yet to kill any civilians, but the villagers are living in constant fear of violence.
Al-Shabaab, which means “The Youth” in Arabic, is headquartered in Somalia, but after Kenyan troops invaded the failed state, the militants swore to “take the holy war to Kenya.”
Tuesday’s invasion is another in a series of intense activity in the last few weeks for al-Shabaab. On May 26, al-Shabaab militants engaged in a firefight with police, although no police were injured. They also stormed a mosque and held a congregation hostage last month.
These acts are only a small part of a wider terror campaign in Kenya, however. In April, al-Shabaab brutally murdered 147 Christian students at Garissa College. In 2013, al-Shabaab stormed the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing 67.
Officials are alarmed that al-Shabaab may be becoming more and more difficult to uproot from Kenya, as well.
In addition to acts of terrorism, armed men, suspected to be al-Shabaab operatives, have also apparently set up roadblocks and are extorting “taxes” from local citizens.
“Those who have erected the barriers are not the so-called bandits. This is very strange and we fear the money may be going to fund terrorism,” regional politician Nura Bila said.
If indeed the roadblocks have been set-up by al-Shabaab, the tactics they are using to raise funds are similar to some of the tactics used by ISIS.
Experts believe one of the reasons ISIS has been so successful at amassing wealth and territory is that they have been able to extricate resources through taxing the population. Al-Shabaab seems to be beginning to pursue a similar strategy in Kenya.
Al-Shabaab has previously been linked to al-Qaeda, although ISIS has apparently been reaching out to al-Shabaab to convince them to join their growing network of terror groups.
ISIS “affiliates” are a growing problem for Western security forces, as they have been established in at least a dozen countries, from Algeria in the West to Indonesia in the East.
If al-Shabaab becomes linked to ISIS, it would mean an expansion in cooperation and exchange of supplies, funds, techniques, and personnel—all of which would give al-Shabaab even more momentum in their fight against Kenya and the West.