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Kenyans take little comfort in demise of Osama bin Laden

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 | 5:41 p.m. CDT; updated 1:48 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In Kenya, people did not go out in the streets to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden. The reaction was positive but cautious.

The country's leaders issued statements welcoming the news. On the other hand, security forces put out statements of heightened security measures in fear of retaliation.

The threat of terrorism in Kenya is real — and isn't limited to al-Qaida.

Before bin Laden and al-Qaida attacked the U.S. at home, it attacked its interests abroad.

Its first major twin attacks were in east Africa when U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. In Kenya, 213 people were killed, including 12 Americans, and more than 5,000 were injured.

These attacks brought bin Laden and his group to the world’s attention and made him a wanted man by the FBI.

In 2002, al-Qaida was back in Kenya, this time bombing an Israeli-owned hotel. There was also an unsuccessful attempt to bring down a commercial Israeli aircraft.

Unlike the American newspapers that used the photo of bin Laden, the press in Kenya mostly selected photos of a memorial site in Nairobi commemorating the victims of the embassy attack in 1998.

Victims and families of those who lost their lives visited the memorial to welcome the news of bin Laden's death.

I am reporting this spring at the Columbia Missourian as an Alfred Friendly Press Fellow, a program that brings journalists from different countries to work for newspapers in the U.S. There are fellows this year from Pakistan and Afghanistan — two countries that have been closely associated with bin Laden.

Each was quick to express the impact bin Laden's death would have on their country.

Emal Haidary, the Alfred Friendly fellow from Afghanistan, said people in his country were glad bin Laden wasn't in Afghanistan when he was killed.

“But his death will not change anything on the ground, as he was not a functioning leader," Haidary said. "Sympathizers may hit back.”

Aatekah Mir, the Alfred Friendly fellow from Pakistan, said the government in her country was quick to distance itself from the operation “because they know that there will be retaliation.”

In Kenya, increased security had been put in place two weeks before bin Laden's death when police warned that the al-Shabaab militia threatened to carry out attacks in Kenya over Easter weekend. No attack took place, but the security forces have remained on high alert.

Two months ago, al-Shabaab said it planned to carry out attacks in Kenya in retaliation for Kenya's role in training Somali government soldiers.

Al-Shabaab, which was designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department in 2008, has links with al-Qaida. The group mainly operates out of Somalia, which has had no central government since 1991 and borders Kenya to the east.

Last July, the group carried out twin bombings in Uganda that killed 74 people, including Americans, as they watched the World Cup. Uganda borders Kenya to the west and is perceived as an enemy of al-Shabaab, along with Burundi, for contributing troops to the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia that the militia group has been fighting.

Al-Shabaab has repeatedly called for attacks to be carried out “against our enemy.”

In Kenya, we have long felt the presence of al-Qaida, and we still face the continuous threat from al-Shabaab.

For some, the death of bin Laden cast doubt about the future of al-Qaida. For those of us who live in east Africa, however, no one expects al-Shabaab — or the threat of terrorism — to go away anytime soon.

Wangui Maina, an Alfred Friendly Press Fellow, is a journalist at the Business Daily in Nairobi, Kenya. She can be reached at mainaw@missouri.edu.


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