Who’s Behind Kenya’s Latest Wave of Terror?

How It Works
June 17 2014 2:14 PM

Who’s Behind Kenya’s Latest Wave of Terror?

Locals block the road with a barricade as they protest the rising insecurity following the killings in Mpeketoni on June 17, 2014.

Photo by Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

Kenya is undergoing its worst wave of terrorist violence since the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi that left 67 people dead last September.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

On Monday night gunmen killed at least 50 people in attacks on the coastal city of Mpeketoni, where crowds were gathered to watch a World Cup game. About 24 hours later, 15 more people were killed and at least 12 women were abducted in the coastal village of Poromoko.


Al-Shabab, the Somali Islamist rebel group that also carried out the Westgate attack, has claimed responsibility for both attacks, demanding that Nairobi pull its troops out of Somalia.

Oddly, though, despite Shabab’s claim of responsibility, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta denies that it is responsible, blaming "local political networks" for the violence.

Kenyatta, a member of the Kikuyu tribe, has been publicly clashing in recent days with opposition leader Raila Odinga, an ethnic Luo. Tension between the groups was at the center of the wave of violence that followed the disputed election of 2007. Kenyatta is currently under indictment at the International Criminal Court for his role in the postelection violence.

The presidents didn’t name any suspects or say which groups were targeted by the attacks, but there is a recent history of brutal ethnic violence in Kenya’s coastal region.

The BBC suggests that it’s possible that “local ethnic Somalis or Oromos may have targeted members of the president's Kikuyu community and tried to divert the blame by waving al-Shabab flags.” The target fits with Shabab’s MO—during the last World Cup, in 2010, the group bombed a crowd watching the finals in Uganda, another country that had send troops to Somalia—but the tactics, which involved killing only men while abducting women, would be new for the group.

Of course, it’s also possible that it was Shabab and the president is attempting to deflect blame onto his political rivals.

The fact that these both seem like plausible scenarios is itself pretty telling.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 2:35 PM Germany’s Nationwide Ban on Uber Lasted All of Two Weeks
The Vault
Sept. 16 2014 12:15 PM “Human Life Is Frightfully Cheap”: A 1900 Petition to Make Lynching a Federal Offense
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Sept. 16 2014 1:39 PM The Case of the Missing Cerebellum How did a Chinese woman live 24 years missing part of her brain?
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 8:41 PM You’re Cut, Adrian Peterson Why fantasy football owners should release the Minnesota Vikings star.