Tue, March 13, 2012
World > Africa

Nairobi's backstreets easy targets for terrorists

2012-03-13 10:09:34 GMT2012-03-13 18:09:34(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

NAIROBI, March 13 (Xinhua)-- The backstreets of Kenya's capital Nairobi have become tempting targets for al Qaida linked Al-Shabaab operatives.

The bustling streets in the central business district have been attacked at least three times since Kenya Defence Forces crossed into Somalia in October to fight Al-Shabaab, and it seems they are not yet out of the woods.

In the first incident in October, Al-Shabaab operatives hurled a grenade inside a bar full of revelers along Mfangano lane.

The early morning blast came a few days after Al-Shabaab leaders in Somalia warned Kenya of terror attacks and it injured 14 people.

The second attack, later the same day, occurred at a bus terminal in downtown Nairobi. A grenade was hurled at a public transport vehicle but bounced off and exploded near some waiting passengers. One person was killed and scores of others were injured in the blast.

The third attack hit the Machakos country bus station frequented by hundreds of commuters. The March 10 attack killed seven people and injured more than 60 others.

The Kenyan government condemned the attack and accused the Somali terror group Al-Shabaab of targeting innocent civilians.

"We highly believe this attack was orchestrated by Al-Shabaab and we are going to continue pursuing them within Kenya and in Somalia," said, George Saitoti, the internal security minister.

In another terror attack in December 2010, terrorists threw grenades at a Kampala bus coach as passengers were boarding the vehicle in downtown Nairobi. The explosions killed one person and seriously wounded 26 others. The bloodshed was reportedly masterminded by a Tanzanian linked to Al-Shabaab militants.

A walk in Nairobi's backstreets gives insights to why they have become terrorists' battle fields. The streets, home to thousands of small businesses, have always been thronged with large crowds at any time of the day.

The River Road is one of the downtown streets that is popular with Nairobi residents and was once hit by terrorists.

The street stretches about seven km and hosts hundreds of eateries, hotels, banks and shops.

Seeing the enormous economic potential for small traders, financial institutions scrambled to open branches on the avenue.

Many people, however, flock to the street because they are accessible places for cheap commodities, be it food or clothes.

"There is no street in Nairobi that beats River Road in terms of business and people who frequent here," Nobert Mutua, a public transport operator, said Monday. "Day or night, you will meet hundreds of people here. At night, most of those who are here are travelers while during the day, most of them who come here are shoppers."

The masses of shoppers and travelers have made the street a perfect place for terrorists and other criminals to carry out attacks.

"Terrorists believe when they attack crowds of people in the backstreets, they will cause maximum pain on Kenya. The number of those injured or dead will be high," Mutua said.

He said that large crowds have also posed challenges to law enforcement officers.

"Crime rates are high because the area is not effectively policed. You will see police patrolling the street but they barely know that crimes happening in their vicinity. Someone will be mugged a few meters from the police but they will not know," he said.

Paul Njeru, a trader at the Luthuli Avenue which joins the River Road, said that most Nairobi backstreets are prone to terror attacks because they are poorly designed and in disorder.

"City authorities cannot confidently say they know all the businesspersons in the area and activities they engage in," he said. "Some of the businesses are not even registered. This makes it difficult to account for what takes place in the area."

Lack of order, Njeru said, enables terrorists to infiltrate the areas unnoticed.

"The criminals may come, set up shop as they survey the area before launching attacks. They may never be detected because there is no accountability," he said.

A similar situation bedevils Machakos country buses. At the busy bus park, most transport companies operate haphazardly.

"They do not care to know their customers and cannot account for them. Security at the bus park is also not given proper attention," said Killian Amunga, who takes buses there to travel to Western Kenya every fortnight.

She said that when Al-Shabaab threats of terror attack started to hang over Kenya, some bus companies began to make security checks on customers, but the move fizzled out with time.

"Before the March 10 attack, people were just boarding buses without being checked or their luggages scrutinized. Criminals can take advantage of this. Perhaps operators will be careful after the Saturday attack," he said.

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