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Al-Shabaab militants intensify raids in Kenya, torch houses with impunity

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online

NAIROBI, Kenya - Al-Shabaab militants operating within Kenyan soil have caused fear, it has emerged, targeting the police reservists within the northeastern region.

The government of Kenya has deployed a group of officers, better known as National Police Reservists [NPR], in areas battling insecurity within the country.

In most cases, the poorly paid team, almost working as volunteers, are strategically deployed in arid and semi-arid regions, where incidents of banditry and terrorism are common.

Most of those working as NPR [police reservists] are former police officers, who had since retired from the force or quit for reasons well known to them.

But despite their tremendous success in helping the country repulse bandits and terrorists, the Al-Shabaab militants have earmarked them as a common enemy, if the recent raids are anything to go by.

On Thursday night, an unknown number of Al-Shabaab militants raided Sangailu village in Garissa, the second attack within the vicinity under two weeks.

A police reservist house was torched during the crackdown, although the assailants didn't manage to get their target, the NPR, authorities said.

"They managed to torch down one police reservist house but the attackers were repulsed immediately," Nick Ndalana, the police boss said.

Why is Al-Shabaab interested in NPR?

Tasked to work closely with Special Forces, the NPR officers, usually poorly armed, are a great source of intelligence network for the government.

In most cases, due to their random dispatch, they encounter the militants first or respond to distress calls due to their proximity to people.

As such, the reservists have managed to thwart many Al-Shabaab attacks besides killing a host of militants, thus causing friction between the two sides.

But according to Ndalana, Al-Shabaab militants have often accused NPR of sharing intelligence with security forces, leading to destabilization of planned attacks.

"They are now going for NPRs because they share intelligence with police. The collaboration has helped us thwart many attacks in the region," he told reporters recently.

Shifting guns to NPR, a police officer in Wajir told Garowe Online, has caused anxiety within the service, which has traditionally played an integral role in making the country safe.

The NPRs, the source said in confidence, "have started deserting duty for fear of more raids and executions targeting them. Things will be tough for us."

Previous attacks targeting NPRs

Thursday's attack was the third in a month within Ijara, Garissa, which almost borders porous Kenya-Somalia border to the East, police records show.

At the same village on Feb. 13, the militants abducted two people who they forced to identify police reservists' houses, which were burnt with impunity.

Mohamed Bashir Mursal, an 80-year-old man, would later be released. However, his son, Abdi Mohamed, who had been abducted, is yet to be rescued.

Sophia Abdi, the Ijara MP, said "these people are frequenting in the region. We need a more elaborate security structure to the benefit of our people".

In January, the militants killed an 80-year-old, Mr. Abdullahi Farah at Sangole village in Garissa, after raiding his house in search of his son.

His son, Khali Abdullahi, works with National Police Reservists [NPR] and had been helping the police within the region in locating and unleashing against the militants, officials said.

“When the attackers missed their initial target, they proceeded to kill the father, maybe to pass a message," Mr Ndalama added.

Besides accusing NPR, the militants, most of who are said to be homegrown, have been blaming locals against joining KDF, Ms. Abdi claimed.

NPR tribulations in Kenya

Although the reservists have been vital in Kenya's security department, a number of them had their guns withdrawn by the interior ministry.

This is despite the fact that most, if not all of them, work under poor conditions, with one of the worst remunerations in a country that undermines the police force.

But in his defense, Dr. Fred Matiang'i, the minister in charge, said the guns were recovered to enable the country to do proper registration.

“The purpose of the exercise is to ensure we have orderly and disciplined officers to support the government on security issues, mark firearms and do ballistic tests to deter the use of government firearms by criminals,” he said.

However, a number of politicians from the northern parts of the country, dismissed the disarmament as "tragic" exercise, calling for immediate rescinding of the decision.

But in the middle of the squabbles between government and NPRs, the Al-Shabaab seems to have made them a soft target, something that could force Nairobi to find an urgent solution.