Today the Shanghai Daily reported that two terror suspects, an Australian and a Tanzanian, have been arrested in Kenya.
The article raises a possible al-Shabab connection, stating that “the country’s security agencies have been on high alert after intelligence reports hinted that al-Shabab terrorists are escaping into the East African nation as the operation to rout the insurgents from Somalia gains momentum.”
If the arrests are al-Shabab linked, this will be the first allegation of an Australian becoming involved with the Somali jihadist movement since 2009, when the Holsworthy Barracks plotters were arrested. Following those arrests, no evidence has appeared of new Australian connections to al-Shabab.
While the Sydney Morning Herald reported in March 2012 that ASIO still had concerns that some Australians were providing money to the group, there was no open source confirmation of this.
By contrast, claims in 2007 about Australians (mainly from a small segment of the Somali diaspora) supporting, and travelling to fight with, al-Shabab were supported by statements from some community leaders, the mother of one person involved, and later with evidence that appeared in the Holsworthy Barracks trial.
However, such support is less likely to occur now than before 2009, as the authorities have proscribed the organisation and imprisoned a key intermediary, Saney Aweys. Also, al-Shabab’s already limited popularity in the global Somali diaspora has declined in the past few years.
I’ve no idea what will come out from these recent arrests in Kenya, as there has only been one report. It could prove to be very significant, particularly as al-Shabab merged with al-Qaeda in February this year. Alternatively the two people may be innocent, they might not be linked to al-Shabab, and the article itself could simply be wrong.
If it does turn out to be new evidence of Australian involvement with al-Shabab, I suspect it will be much less extensive than what occurred between 2007 and 2009.
Update 1: More detail has appeared in The Star, a Kenyan newspaper, which reports that the man is suspected of belonging to a bomb-dealing syndicate in Kenya’s second largest city, Mombasa. Some shots were fired during the arrest, and it’s not clear if he will be taken to court. The article in The Star does not suggest any al-Shabab connection.
Update 2: Turns out the journalist Philip Dorling inquired with DFAT about this case. It’s looking doubtful that the arrested man is an Australian after all.