Kenya on the brink: Kenyatta purges top security chiefs after outrage over latest Al-Shabaab massacre

The government has been ridiculed for fighting a "hashtag war" against terror, and doing nothing on the ground, with 36 dead in fresh attack.

AT least 36 people were killed in north east Kenya after gunmen launched a fresh attack on a quarry, the Red Cross said Tuesday, adding to the east African country’s terror headache following a series of attacks and leading to the exit of the country’s top security chiefs. 

The incident overnight Monday to Tuesday took place some 15 kilometres from the remote town of Mandera and close to the dangerous border with war-torn Somalia, where the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab and other militia have carried out a series of raids. 

At least two of the workers who tried to escaped were captured, had their heads tied behind their backs, and beheaded, reports said. The rest were shot in the head.

The quarry killings follow a separate attack Monday night in the town of Wajir, which left one person dead and 12 wounded when gunmen hurled grenades and sprayed a bar with bullets. 

Al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the latest attack.

These new attacks come as Kenyans marched in the country’s capital last week, protesting government inaction in the face of rising insecurity and terrorism in the country. It is also likely to deepen the growing sense that the government in Nairobi is losing the fight.

In a fightback against the criticism, the country’s top policeman David Kimaiyo resigned, while President Uhuru Kenyatta nominated nominated a retired army man, Joseph Nkaissery, as interior minister to take the seat of Joseph ole Lenku, a political greenhorn who had come across to Kenyans as weak. There was no word on the fate of ole Lenku, who had just been nominated for a national award for devising long-term security strategies for the country, according to aides. 

The war against Al-Shabaab would be won, Kenyatta said in a nationally televised address Tuesday.

The march and sit-in dubbed #Tumechoka, or “We are tired” in Kiswahili, was called after the execution of 28 non-Muslims who were grabbed from a bus on November 22. Al-Shabaab said this attack, which also occurred in Mandera, was carried out in revenge for police raids on mosques in Kenya’s key port of Mombasa. It left Kenyans questioning their government’s capacity and willingness to prevent terrorism. (Read: Al-Shabaab re-emerges with deadly new outrage as Kenya attack heightens sense of crisis)

Critics have alleged that the government, noted for its keenness on image and propaganda, is concentrating on fighting “a hashtag war” on Twitter to look good, rather than taking concrete action on the ground. Images of Kenya’s borders ringed with hashtags are becoming common items of ridicule.

Kenyan security officials have come under major pressure with the interior minister and police chief having been on the spot following a wave of attacks, including last year’s attack by Al-Shabaab against the upmarket Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, in which at least 67 people were killed in a siege involving just four gunmen and which lasted four days.

Kenya, a regional economic and tourist hub has suffered a series of attacks since invading Somalia in 2011 to attack the Al-Shabaab. Kenyan forces have since joined an African Union force battling the Islamists.

In a sign of unease, several key Kenya unions including one for civil servants have warned their members to leave the restive northeast until the government can ensure their safety.

Professionals working in the largely Muslim and ethnic Somali northeastern regions often come from further south in Kenya, where Christians make up about 80% of the population. At their funerals over the weekend, politicians ramped up hardline rhetoric taking the fight to terrorists and supporters, in language that left an uneasy feeling that the Kenyan national project is probably beginning to unravel. It is probably what the terrorists wanted.

Worries over internal security spiked when Al-Shabaab rebels massacred 100 people in a string of raids against villages in the Lamu county region on the Kenyan coast in June and July. (See: Kenya, Nigeria, Libya risk becoming like Somalia: How rising Jihadism could bring ‘rising’ Africa down)

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