The U.S. State Department is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of a leading figure in militant group al-Shabab amid a growing terror threat in East Africa and Washington’s renewed concern about the safety of Americans overseas.
In a sign of the regional security fears that prompted Tuesday’s offer of a reward for information on Abubakar Ali Adan, Kenya’s interior ministry this week published the names and faces of 35 terror suspects following recent attacks in Lamu at the Kenyan coast. It promised a “substantial cash reward” for information leading to their arrests.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department issued a rare ”Worldwide Caution” alert on Thursday in which it urged any American who is overseas to “exercise increased caution” due to “increased tensions in various locations around the world.” It comes in the aftermath of a deadly terrorist attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel on Oct. 7. The ensuing conflict has so far claimed around 5,000 lives on both sides and threatens to pull in other countries in the region.
Kenya and its northern neighbor Somalia have experienced an uptick in al-Shabab attacks this year, fueling concerns on the deadly group’s heightened activities. Three Kenyan soldiers were killed in an al-Shabab attack in the Coastal county of Lamu in June, just over a week after an al-Shabab attack in Garissa, Northeastern Kenya, left eight Kenyan soldiers dead.
On Oct. 13, four days before offering the $5 million reward for information, the United States on issued a security alert on Kenya to warn its citizens in the country of possible terrorist attacks on places frequented by foreigners, such as malls, hotels, restaurants and places of worship.
Neighboring Uganda in June announced the killing of 54 of its soldiers in an al-Shabab attack on a military base of an African Union-backed multinational force combating the terror group in Somalia.
The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a crisis monitoring group that tracks violence by collecting reports from media and non-governmental organizations, reported a 66% increase in political violence events involving al-Shabab in Kenya in 2022 compared with 2021. Much of the al-Shabab activity was recorded in the Northeastern counties bordering Somalia.
The threat of terror in the region cannot be underestimated. Kenya has previously suffered devastating al-Shabab attacks such as the massacres at the Westgate shopping mall in 2013 and Garissa University two years later. The country has been spooked by terror attacks this year and is keen on stopping any resurgence of the terror group.
Kenya has been forced to lean on the U.S. for support in its counter-terrorism efforts.Somalia, also supported by the US, has stepped up its offensive against al-Shabab, and in May fired and replaced its army chief following a surge in attacks. However, the worldwide alert issued by U.S. officials — a rare move — points to a growing concern in Washington about the safety of its citizens overseas.
The broad concern about security threats felt by the U.S. can be seen in attempts to tackle the specific threat posed by al-Shabab in East Africa. Cameron Hudson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank headquartered in Washington, told Semafor the reward offer for Adan was part of a “wider US strategy to degrade al-Shabab by targeting its leadership.” He added that the U.S. security alert on Kenya pointed to an amping up of efforts to combat the group.
“The warning reflects more than just a warning of heightened threat from al-Shabab, I think it also suggests a more muscular response coming from the U.S. and its partners in the region, namely Kenya,” stated Hudson. He said he expected Washington to offer the region “additional intelligence support, deeper training and equipping of partner militaries,” adding that a “larger U.S. military footprint” in the region could not be ruled out.