Kenya urged to upscale its community policing policy

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Kenya's security analysts said there is a need for the country to upscale its community policing policy to involve the public more in security matters to prevent acts of terrorism.

The Saturday's mall attack by Somalia-based terrorist group Al- Shabaab killed more than 60 people, the worst terrorist attack since the 1998 bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi that killed more than 200 people.

"The public first needs to be educated on the ills of terrorism. This education campaign should particularly target groups that are seen as sympathetic to terrorists," said Cyprian Awiti, a private security consultant and former Kenya Defence Force officer.

He told Xinhua in an interview in Nairobi on Tuesday that when the public fully understands that terrorism is just like any other crime, then it will be easy for them to cooperate with the police.

"The problem is that in some quarters, the public has been made to believe that terrorist activities being carried out in Kenya are revenge against violation of their sovereign or religious freedoms, which is not the case," said Awiti.

Kenya had launched a community policing program in mid-2000s but that program was mainly targeted at defeating local criminals especially within the estates and villages.

Analysts said working with communities will help the police arrest the terrorists before they strike instead of dealing with a post attack situation when the likely response would be to kill the terrorists.

When terrorists are arrested, they become more useful as they offer more information to the police and therefore strengthen intelligence gathering and prosecution.

Anneli Botha, senior researcher with the Transnational Threats and International Crime Division at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) said dealing effectively with terrorism in the long term requires evidence and intelligence-based criminal justice responses aimed at arresting and prosecuting the perpetrators.

"Experience demonstrates that a purely military response can have unintended consequences, including the risk of fuelling extremism and further acts of terrorism," said Botha.

Botha said because of the transnational nature of modern terrorist operations, it will be essential for Kenyan investigators to work closely with other African and international governments, not least because foreign nationals are both victims and alleged perpetrators of the attack.

The dynamic of terrorism in Kenya is that while in the past the perpetrators were exclusively foreigners, there is a growing number of Kenyans who have joined foreign terrorist organizations like Al-Shabaab and have staged low key attacks inside Kenya according to arrests and prosecutions made against some of the Kenyan terrorists.

Several Kenyans have been arrested while crossing over into Somalia to receive terrorism training or when they are returning from the Al-Shabaab training camps in Somalia to stage attacks.

Analysts believe the growth of home grown terrorism, which aids the foreign terrorists when they want to strike in Kenya, could be reversed with implementation of a community policing policy that will improve engagement between the police and the public.

"It is essential to guard against an emotional retaliation, as that would play directly into the hands of Al-Shabaab," Botha said.

"There is need for Kenya to undertake a national security review," said Simiyu Werunga, the East Africa Director of the African Center for Security and Strategic Studies.

Werunga told Xinhua that the review should include setting up systems to involve the public more in policing matters.

"The government should work closely with ordinary people to defeat terrorism under a special program," he said. "There is a need for a people-centered policy on terrorism," he added.

He said those efforts should be aligned with improving the welfare of security officers and providing them with modern equipment to enable them to gather and analyze intelligence.

Al-Shabaab said it staged attacks in Kenya to revenge the country's invasion of Somalia in 2011 where it targeted Al-Shabaab positions.

Since then, Kenya's Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) has successfully uncovered terrorism acts which have resulted to several prosecutions.

Kenya's military intervention in Somalia was prompted by the taking of hostages from Kenya and a number of smaller attacks on Kenyan targets.

These attacks targeted churches and restaurants in an attempt to provoke a religious conflict in Kenya between the Muslims and Christians according to Kenya Police. But the intention failed.

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