Islamist terror group Al-Shabaab has once again begun to strike rural villages near the Kenyan town of Garissa, little more than a month after the jihadists stormed Garissa University and killed 147 Christian students after separating them from their Muslim colleagues.
Al Jazeera reports that the latest town to fall victim to the Somali terror group is Yumbis, about 70 kilometers north of Garissa. The Kenyan government claims that the full attack on the town has been “thwarted” and that “security forces swiftly mobilised and engaged the militants in a gun battle,” according to an official statement. Kenyan government officials noted that no casualties were reported in the attempted siege.
Al-Shabaab is, nonetheless, treating the Yumbis attack as a success. “The Mujahideen carried out an operation in Yumbis. This was part of our ongoing operations to free the Christian-occupied Muslim lands of Northern Frontier Districts [NFD]. The coward enemy ran away before our Mujahideen arrived,” an official Al-Shabaab spokesman said of the attack. “We spoke to the Muslim residents and left more than eight hours later,” he concluded.
One anonymous resident told Al Jazeera that the group made sure to raise their black flag over the village mosque and every corner of the village.
While the government insists that Al-Shabaab failed at whatever its objective may have been in Yumbis, the black flag appears to have frightened much of the town. Reports from Kenya’s The Standard indicate that Yumbis–and neighboring villages that have been targeted by Al Shabaab–lost a large percentage of their men upon the arrival of the terror group, as the men fled for their lives. As a consequence of this flight, the terrorists appear to have resorted mostly to symbolic victories: raising their flags over mosques and forcing the women and children of villages to listen to jihadi speeches for hours on end.
“The criminals lectured the people on why they were fighting Kenya. Majority of those they talked to were women and children since most men fled fearing for their lives,” said one witness speaking to The Standard. Another village resident forced to listen to speeches told the newspaper that the speeches were a way of weeding out those who resisted the terrorist group’s ideology: “We had to fight the temptation to fall asleep lest we are labelled traitors.”
The Standard notes that Al-Shabaab appears to be shifting gears in its approach to terrorism, forcing Muslims in Kenyan territories to listen to propaganda in support of its attacks, rather than bombing the villages or indiscriminately shooting villagers whom they may be able to brainwash into supporting the group first.
Al-Shabaab appears to be arguing that the raising of flags indicates that they have conquered Yumbis, while the government claims they have rid the town of the group’s presence. “We fully control Yumbis village. Kenyan forces tried to attack the village but we drove them back,” said Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a spokesman for Al-Shabaab. In contrast, a Kenyan official told Reuters that “we have dispatched a team of security officers on the ground tracking down the attackers. … The area is calm and peaceful.”