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Kenya Bombs Two Al-Shabab Camps In Somalia


Kenya's air force bombed two militant camps over the border in neighboring Somalia today. It was the first military response to an attack carried out last week by the Islamist group al-Shabaab. The extremists killed at least 148 students and staff on a university campus. Al-Shabaab promises further attacks until Kenya's cities run, quote, "red with blood." NPR's Gregory Warner in Nairobi reports that Kenyans are worried the real enemy isn't in Somali, but closer to home.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: If you close your eyes, it could almost sound like a graduation ceremony.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Next is 604, the family of Erida Otieno Obiero - Erida Otieno Obiero.

WARNER: But this was at a Nairobi mortuary this morning. Kenyan Red Cross was calling out the names of still-unidentified students, along with the number of the corpse that their fingerprints had matched to.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Next is 607 - 607, the family of Ruth Nakunu - Ruth Nukunu. Next is 609...

WARNER: Stephen Mwangi was here, listening for the name of his younger sister, Joyce. Like her older brother, she was studying information science at the university, hoping to become an IT professional in Kenya's technology boom. Stephen is student body president and usually quite voluble. His affect is flat when he describes hiding in a closet for 12 hours during the attack.

STEPHEN MWANGI: Actually, it was terrible. It was terrible.

WARNER: Can you tell me anything about your sister?

MWANGI: Actually, I don't know what to say. If I start that, then I will have so much to say, of which I am not ready to talk about yet.

WARNER: His relatives were ready to talk, or rather to demand to know why it took so long to send in a rescue squad, especially since Kenya has an elite police unit, the Recce Company, trained by the United States and Israel to deal with just this kind of closed-quarter hostage situation. The answer is that elite team was not deployed for at least seven hours. George Musamili is a former trainer for the squad. He says helicopters were not made available to fly them from their base outside Nairobi to the university in Garissa.

GEORGE MUSAMILI: It's not that Kenya is short of aircrafts.

WARNER: The army has helicopters, he says, but those were not immediately provided to the special police unit. Musamili says, at the very least, it was a failure of coordination, though he says one helicopter was requisitioned at the start of the attack to ferry top military brass to the scene.

MUSAMILI: Instead of thinking about saving lives and rescuing people that are being held hostage, they are thinking about doing PR.

WARNER: He criticized, as more PR, the retaliatory bombing by Kenya's air force on Sunday against two al-Shabaab camps in Somalia. The news came even as the identity of one of the gunmen in the university attack was revealed as the Kenyan-born son of a Kenyan government official. He says some of the militants in previous terror attacks have also been born in Kenya, radicalized in Kenya, only visiting Somalia to be trained. Parselelo Kantai writes and reports on al-Shabaab for the magazine Africa Report.

PARSELELO KANTAI: Kenyans are actually at war with Kenya in the name of al-Shabaab.

WARNER: Kantai says that al-Shabaab has a specific recent strategy for recruiting Kenyans, using slickly produced videos in the style of Islamic State, except the focus is less on ideological purity and more on Kenya's legendary corruption.

KANTAI: So that the propaganda Shabaab is developing is a propaganda against the so-called corrupt Kenyan state and urging people, specifically Muslims, to rise up against it in their homelands.

WARNER: It may seem like the slaughter of college students could have nothing to do with fighting Kenyan corruption, but in the twisted narrative of al-Shabaab, even Christian students can be spun as occupiers of areas that are majority Muslim. And that plays into real local grievances. It's a harder war for Kenya to win than the one over the Somali border. It means that a police force often viewed as corrupt and abusive has to convince Kenyans, especially Kenyan Muslims, to trust them enough to give them information. And it means that security officials have to work together with that information to prevent the next attack. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.