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Al-Shabaab suffers heavy losses in Kenya attack

By East Africa correspondent , Garowe Online

NAIROBI, Kenya - Six Al-Shabaab militants were on Friday gunned down at Jirole village in Ijara constituency, a top official confirmed, adding that one operative was captured alive during the crackdown.

Al-Shabaab militants have been roaming in northeastern Kenya, raiding villages indiscriminately in search of food, National Police Reservists [NPR] and non-locals, despite the heavy presence of Special Forces from KDF.

Nick Ndalana, the northeastern regional coordinator, confirmed Friday's crackdown against the militants at Jirole in Garissa, terming it as "milestone" in the fight against the militants.

Without giving finer details, the official said the six were killed after a brief gunfire exchange with KDF, who overpowered them. The captured militant is under the custody of Special Forces, he said.

"Six of them were gunned down after trying to engage Special Forces in a gunfight. They have been camping in the region for a while," he said. "One of them was captured alive and is aiding us with information."

However, the exact number of militants could not be established immediately by the authorities. But reports about their presence was first revealed by locals in February, intelligence reports indicate.

Recently, the Al-Qaeda-linked group has stepped up raids in Kenya as revenge for the country's involvement in the AU Somalia mission.

Since January, the militants have waged at least 17 attacks in Northern Frontier Districts [NFDs], leaving over 20 people dead, police in Kenya said in a report prepared last month.

Garissa has borne the brunt of the attacks, with the militants targeting communication masts, schools, security officials and non-locals. Already, over 2,000 non-local teachers have been transferred for safety, officials said.

Sophia Abdi, the Ijara MP, asked the government to beef up security in the region last month, saying "we are no longer safe, they are raiding us, in search of our children who have joined KDF."

The militants torched houses belonging to NPRs, whom they accuse of sharing intelligence with KDF last month. Also, they raided families whose members work with security forces, and in some incidents, they slaughtered goats for food, officials confirmed.

Interestingly, Ijara constituency is about 200 kilometers inside Kenya, raising doubts about the country's ability to regulate movements along the porous Kenya-Somalia border.

Currently, schools are closed down in the region as local leaders and governments try to look for a long-term solution to frequent terror activities, which security forces blame on the local population.

"It's important that you help us find those harboring these criminals. They are known by residents," President Uhuru Kenyatta is said to have reprimanded local leaders when they visited him at State House last month.

But various mechanisms among them banning contraband goods have been imposed along the border. The unscrupulous businessmen, Uhuru had argued, aid in financing the militants.

On Wednesday, Al-Shabaab militants waged five separate attacks in the neighboring Mandera for three hours consecutively, without police intervention, Governor Ali Roba said.

A Mandera-bound bus was intercepted, after which the militants ransacked it, looking for non-Muslims. A non-local mechanic was abducted and is believed to have been butchered, the driver said.

"I tried talking to them to tell them these people were not non-locals, they said they were looking for non-Muslims," Anis Abdinoor, the driver of the bus told VOA.

At the same time, the militants also ambushed a vehicle carrying drugs for hospitals in Rhamu area, killing two occupants instantly. Two more people are yet to be found, police said.

Kenya has been a key target for the militants for several years now, who have executed deadly attacks even within the capital, Nairobi, thus leading to the counter-attacks.

Currently, there are about 3,000 KDF troops in Somalia, who were absorbed by AMISOM. They are set to completely withdraw from the country in 2021, after liberating many towns despite suffering casualties in the process.