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Violence And Chaos Continue In Kenya And Nigeria


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now we'd like to talk about two international stories you may be following. We're talking about violent attacks in Kenya and Nigeria. On Tuesday, 13 people were killed by a bombing at a World Cup viewing center in Nigeria. And earlier this week, 15 people were killed by gunmen at a market in northern Nigeria. Both attacks are suspected to have been carried out by Boko Haram. That's that Islamist militant group that's claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls in April. And these latest attacks are causing critics to ask, again, if the government led by President Goodluck Jonathan is up to the task of handling this crisis in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, in the East African country of Kenya, at least 57 people are dead after a series of attacks along the country's coast. The Islamist group al-Shabaab claims responsibly for those attacks, even warning tourists to visit, quote, "at their own peril." Kenya's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, claims that those attacks were carried out, though, not by al-Shabaab but by local political networks and criminal gangs.

For more on what's been going on in these two countries, we've turning - we are turning to James Schneider. He is the editor-in-chief for the online magazine "Think Africa Press" and he's with us now from London. James Schneider thanks so much for speaking with us.

JAMES SCHNEIDER: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: Could we start with Kenya? These - we have heard, of course, in the past there have been, you know, political violence. We've heard about, you know, al-Shabaab - particularly operating along the borders there. What we know about that? Do we - do you have a sense of whether it was in fact al-Shabaab or not?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it's unclear. But the government's position doesn't seem entirely consistent. So to begin with, they were saying that it was al-Shabaab and that the spokesman for the military which is fighting against al-Shabaab in Somalia said that it was al-Shabaab. And now they've - now they've changed their tune, and they've said that it's political.

But they started off by saying it was political - more in the sense of party-political rather than what they're saying now, which is sort of local land disputes between different ethnic groups. They don't have a lot of credibility with knowing precisely what happens in attacks. If you remember the Westgate Shopping Mall attack where, you know, they first of all said that there were lots of foreign fighters, there were some British and American there, that turned out to not be the case.

There was the suggestion from the foreign minister that possibly Samantha Lewthwaite, the so-called white widow, was amongst the attackers. And even when they released the names of the attackers they got them off a bogus twitter account. Reporting to be from them al-Shabaab. So when they say they have a lot of intelligence - suggesting it's one particular thing we have to take that with a bit of a pinch of salt.

MARTIN: If it is al-Shabaab, does this latest attack tell us something about their intentions or their tactics at this point or their targets or motivations?

SCHNEIDER: Yes. If it is al-Shabaab, it's a sort of refining of their process. So they previously - part of the reason why, apparently Al-Qaida core and Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri were unsure about whether they wanted to ally with al-Shabaab was because its leader, Godane, has been so violent, and they've killed so many Muslims in Somalia. And then in Westgate there was apparently - some of the time they were asking people, could they recite a verse in the Quran? And if they couldn't, they were killing them. And other times, they were killing people indiscriminately and also killing women and children.

Here what seems to have happened is they've gone door to door asking one, can anyone recite a verse in the Quran? And then, two, taking generally young men, sort of fighting-age men, and not killing women and children. So if this is this al-Shabaab, it suggests that they've taken on board the criticisms they got from within the kind of international jihadi networks - which said they were indiscriminately killing. And they were killing too many Muslims.

MARTIN: What - what - have they announced a motivation for this? Do we have any sense of what their ultimate goal is?

SCHNEIDER: Yeah, so they say it's in response - just like Westgate was. And there's has actually been a spate of other attacks around the country but on a smaller scale over the past year. It's in response to Kenya's invasion of Somalia to combat al-Shabaab, which started in October, 2011, slightly - I mean sadly, ironically after - or in response to kidnappings by al-Shabaab of tourists and other people in this part of the country in this northeast of the country.

MARTIN: Let's turn to Nigeria now. We've heard about these latest attacks which just reinforce, I think, the sense of kind of chaos and disorder that I think a lot of people are experiencing after the kidnapping of those schoolgirls, which, of course, has become a matter of international attention. There has been this discussion about whether or not there should be negotiations with Boko Haram. I mean, previously the president said he would not negotiate. He has appealed for help from, you know, bordering countries and, you know, from allies - and addressing this. But has there been any discussion around this whole question of negotiation? Where are those talks?

SCHNEIDER: There has been. And for the last sort of five years that Boko Haram has operated, there have been, sort of, on-again off-again so-called negotiations. But it's always been slightly unclear who they've been with. So a certain figure will pop up and say that he represents - he's a Boko Haram negotiator, and they have some negotiations with him. And nothing comes of it, and I think they're basically unsure of what their position should be. They - you know, Goodluck Jonathan and his administration, know that they absolutely have to bring the girls back. It's in the context of the presidential election coming up relatively early next year. But, at the same time, they know that AQIM further north in Mali and in Nigeria have been funding themselves from kidnappings. And that perhaps their international partners, you know, especially Britain and the U.S., will not look kindly to them paying - to having this large prisoner exchange.

MARTIN: And finally, these latest attacks again - the killings as we said, of the 13 people at this World Cup Viewing Center and then of the bombing at the market. Is there anything that we can draw from those attacks either about, you know, methods, intentions, motivations? What was the purpose of them?

SCHNEIDER: Not really. It fits into their, kind of, broad schemer of attacking local population. They have evolved but this right now, what we've just seen in the last couple of days, is not an evolution. They now target the local population far more than they used to because they now see the local population as enemies, because they have in many places - especially Maiduguri, which is the capital of Borno state, which is the kind of the locus of this - have risen up against them, when beforehand they more attacked police stations and traditional leaders.

MARTIN: James Schneider is the editor-in-chief for "Think Africa Press." We reached him in London. James Schneider, thank you so much for speaking with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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