SECURITY forces in Somalia ordered Shabelle Radio off the air on Saturday for broadcasting a claim by al- Shabaab that it carried out an attack on a university in neighbouring Kenya that killed almost 150 people.
“Shabelle Radio breached an agreement between the independent media and the security ministry in which they agreed not to air any propaganda from al-Shabaab,” Mohamed Yusuf, a spokesman for Somalia’s security ministry, said by phone.
Mohamed Bashir Hashi, an editor with Shabelle, said staff were arrested during the shut-down.
“We aim to provide a service that is balanced and unbiased and the government wants us to be their device,” he said by phone. “That is an act against the independence of the media.”
Somali militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the April 2 attack on Garissa University College in neighboring Kenya. It was the second worst terror attack in Kenya, since the Nairobi US embassy bombings of August 1998. There was a simultaneous attack on the US embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
A total of of 213 people were killed in the Nairobi attack, of whom 44 were American embassy staff. The Garissa toll is also more than twice higher than the 67 from the bloody Shabaab seige of the Westgate mall in Nairobi in September 2013.
Since Kenya sent its troops to southern Somalia in October 2011 to stop Shabaab’s crossborder attacks, nearly 500 people have been killed in Nairobi, the coastal area, and its northeastern towns, in attacks by Shabaab and its local affiliates.
Meanwhile a more detailed profile of Mohamed Mohamud, named by Kenyan police as the mastermind of the Garissa college attack, is emerging.
Mohamud, described as a “soft-spoken” former teacher, is known also by the alias “Kuno”, as well as “Dulyadin” and “Gamadhere”—meaning “long armed” and “ambidextrous”.
The alleged Shabaab member is also wanted in connection with a string of recent cross-border killings and massacres in Kenya’s northeastern border region.
Police have offered a 20 million shilling ($215,000) bounty for information leading to his capture.
Mohamud is a Kenyan national and an ethnic Somali—like more than two million other Kenyans or some 6% of the population. The minority mainly lives in the country’s vast, impoverished and arid northeast, where Garissa is one of the largest towns.
Kenya’s ethnic Somali region is also claimed by the Shabaab as part of Somalia itself, and has long been lawless, including the brutal secessionist 1963-1967 “Shifta war”.
While Mohamud, thought to be in his late 50s, did not take part physically in the Garissa attack, students who survived the massacre described the attackers as men like him: speaking Kenya’s Swahili language well, with some suggesting they may have been Kenyan too.
One of those arrested of suspicion of supporting the gunmen include a Tanzanian—found hiding in a ceiling with grenades—and a university security guard, a Kenyan ethnic Somali, according to the interior ministry.
Mohamud was reportedly born in Ethiopia into the powerful Somali Ogaden clan, which controls the region where Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia meet.
Reaching into Kenya
Photographs show a slender man with a short beard.
Kenyan police sources say he was a teacher and then headmaster of a madrassa in Garissa, but later became radicalised and crossed the porous border into southern Somalia to join the Islamic Courts Union, a precursor to the Shabaab.
An AFP correspondent who met him in the Somali capital Mogadishu in 2008 and 2009, when the majority of the city was under Shabaab control, said Mohamud was a well-known and hardline commander.
He commanded a much-feared Islamist unit in Mogadishu called the “Jugta-Culus”—or “heavy strikers”, who carried out some of the toughest fighting.
Mohamud, however, also appeared in person as educated as well as “quiet and gentle”.
He appeared in several propaganda films showing Shabaab battles in southern Somalia, and later was a commander in the southern Somali Ras Kamboni militia, under the warlord Ahmed Madobe, a former Islamist commander turned Kenyan ally.
In the murky world of Somali armed groups, politics and clan loyalties, Madobe’s forces helped Kenyan forces seize the key port of Kismayo in 2012.
While Mohamud is on the run, Madobe now leads southern Somalia’s Jubaland region.
But under pressure on their home soil, the Shabaab have reached into Kenya to carry out attacks and find recruits among disaffected youth in the Muslim-majority coastal and northeast regions.
In November, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group claimed responsibility for holding up a bus outside Mandera, separating passengers according to religion and murdering 28 non-Muslims.
Ten days later, 36 non-Muslim quarry workers were also massacred in the area.
A Shabaab statement on Friday warning Kenyans of further bloodshed, said the gunmen carried out the Garissa attack in revenge for the “systematic persecution of the Muslims in Kenya”.
Attacks cited include Kenya’s 1984 Wagalla massacre, when Kenyan troops trying to put down local conflict killed an unknown number of people - officially less than a hundred, while others claims up to 5,000 people.
For Kenya, the role of its own nationals like Mohamud can only complicate its anti-terror war, requiring a different local political approach, beyond the military campaign in Somalia.
The fact that a Tanzanian might be involved, will draw comparisons with the July 2010 suicide bombings in the Uganda capital Kampala, in which 80 people were killed.
Shabaab took responsibility for the attack, which it said was retaliation for Uganda’s role in the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
There are 13 people on trial for those attacks - seven Kenyans, five Ugandans and one Tanzanian.
The terror threat in East Africa, has become truly regional.