Police in northeastern Kenya have arrested several men they believe have ties to al-Shabab, the radical al-Qaida-linked Somali group that has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks in Kampala, Uganda. Kenya's police and military have been on heightened alert since Sunday's deadly bombings.
Reports from Kenya's Northeastern Province say two of the suspects in custody are Kenyan Somalis. But a third man arrested at a police checkpoint Wednesday may be a Ugandan.
The provincial commissioner says the suspect is claiming to be a member of the Ugandan army. The man is being interrogated by the police to determine whether he played a role in the double suicide bombings in Kampala, which killed more than 70 people.
On Thursday, Kenyan government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, told reporters in Nairobi that another Ugandan al-Shabab suspect surrendered to police last week in the same area.
"A Ugandan national who had joined al-Shabab handed himself over to the Kenyan authorities in Northeastern Province a few days ago," said Mutua. "He was, therefore, handed over to the Ugandan government because he indicated that he had enough of al-Shabab."
The inhabitants of northeastern Kenya are mostly ethnic Somalis and refugees from Somalia's nearly two decade-long civil war. The border between Kenya and Somalia is porous, allowing al-Shabab to actively recruit in the region. In recent years, al-Shabab fighters have crossed over the border several times to attack towns and villagers inside Kenya. They were able to flee back into Somalia without raising any alarm.
Possibility of attack
The situation has long been a concern for western counter-terrorism officials, who fear that al-Shabab could easily coordinate and carry out a terrorist attack on Kenyan soil.
In recent weeks, Kenyan police have seized large arms caches in various parts of the country, including guns, ammunition, and hand grenades. On July 6, Kenya's anti-terrorism police unit shot and killed a man from northeastern Kenya, who was in possession of 300 electric detonators. The police said the detonators, which are usually used in the mining industry, may also be used for making improvised explosive devices.
Although there is no evidence connecting any of the seized material to al-Shabab, the discoveries and the bombings in Kampala have heightened concerns that al-Shabab could make good on its threat to attack Nairobi for interfering in Somalia.
Why they are upset
Unlike Uganda and Burundi, Kenya has no peacekeepers in Somalia. But al-Shabab accuses the government in Nairobi of supporting anti-Shabab militias in southern Somalia and recruiting ethnic Somalis and Somali refugees in Kenya to fight al-Shabab militants in Mogadishu.
Government spokesman Alfred Mutua says the government needs help from Kenyan citizens to ensure that the country does not again become a victim of terrorism. In 1998, more than 200 Kenyans died in the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi.
"The government has taken cognizance of what happened in Uganda and asks all Kenyans to be vigilant and support the government in all its efforts to combat terrorism," he said. "Kenyans should take it as a personal duty to fight terrorism."
The Kenyan has government deployed extra security forces along the country's northern border with Somalia and tightened border check points. In Nairobi, police are conducting security operations in neighborhoods populated by immigrants, checking for fake documents and identification cards.