MOGADISHU - Agence France-Presse
Al-Shabab fighters display weapons as they conduct military exercises in northern Mogadishu, Somalia. AP Photo.
Kenyan forces thrust deep into southern Somalia for the first time in years
today to hunt Al Qaeda-inspired fighters blamed for a spate of kidnappings,
raising fears of a regional escalation.
Backed by aerial bombings and guided by pro-government Somali forces, Kenyan
troops moved deeper into Somalia, a day after Nairobi declared war on the Shebab
militia and confirmed that it had sent its army across the border.
Kenyan soldiers were reported near the village of Qoqani, some 50 miles
inside southern Somalia, a Shebab stronghold.
"The Kenyan troops supported by tanks and other military vehicles have taken
up positions near Qoqani," said Saleban Mohamed, an elder in a nearby
"I saw around 32 trucks and tanks, with hundreds of troops," he added.
"The Kenyan soldiers are heavily armed and they have started digging trenches
near Qoqani," Abdulahi Sayid Adam, another witness said.
Kenya confirmed Sunday its forces has crossed the border into war-torn
Somalia to fight hardline Shebab forces they accuse of kidnapping foreigners,
provoking a grim warning from the Al-Qaeda linked insurgents.
"Kenya violated the territorial rights of Somalia by entering our holy land,
but I assure you that they will return disappointed, God willing," Sheikh Hassan
Turki, a senior Shebab leader, said late Sunday. "Mujahideen fighters will force
them to test the pain of the bullets." Shebab fighters were reported Monday to
be boosting defences and sending "hundreds" of fighters towards Kenyan and
"I saw around 50 trucks and pickup trucks mounted with machine guns, with
hundreds of fighters heading towards the Kenyan border," Abdi Jumale, a resident
in the Shebab-held port of Kismayo told AFP by telephone.
Shebab commanders confiscated at least a hundred trucks late Sunday from the
Lower Shabelle region, outside the capital Mogadishu, to transport gunmen
southwards towards the battle zones, witnesses said.
"Many trucks were taken by Shebab from civilians to transport fighters, they
are heading towards the Juba regions," a witness in Shebab-held Afgoye district
told AFP, asking not to be named for security reasons.
"They have collected all weapons near Afgoye, and gathered hundreds of young
fighters to face their enemy," another witness said.
"They were addressing the fighters and said that new enemy has crossed into
Somalia border," he added.
The assault followed Kenya's Internal Security Minister George Saitoti
branding Shebab fighters "the enemy" and vowed to attack them "wherever they
will be." In the past five weeks a British woman and a French woman have been
abducted from beach resorts in two separate incidents, dealing a major blow to
Kenya's tourism industry.
On Thursday, two female Spanish aid workers were seized by gunmen from
Kenya's crowded Dadaab refugee camp, the world's largest with some 450,000
mainly Somali refugees.
The Shebab had long refrained from carrying out attacks inside Kenya, which
observers argued was useful to them as a logistical and financial base.
While Kenya troops have frequently been reported to have crossed the long
porous border in recent years, Nairobi never confirmed any involvement and was
always cautious to minimise its exposure to reprisals.
In July 2010, the Shebab group claimed responsibility for suicide attacks in
central Kampala that killed at least 76 people in what it said was retaliation
for Uganda's leading role in the Mogadishu-based African peace force.
The Shebab had repeatedly warned similar attacks would target any regional
power sending forces to support the Western-backed Somali government.