NAIROBI, Kenya — An intelligence message intercepted from an al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group shows that the rebels are being offered up to $8,000 as a reward for killing Kenyan security officers, a Kenyan official said Thursday.
The rewards are enough incentive to motivate some youths in the eastern Kenya town of Garissa to carry out attacks against security forces, Garissa County Commissioner Maalim Mohammed said.
Chronic unemployment in Garissa makes the offer from the al-Shabab Islamist extremists attractive to young men, Mohammed said. Garissa is populated mostly by ethnic Somalis, many of whom are Kenyan citizens.
Mohamed said local residents are complicit in recent attacks on Kenyan security forces that have caused the deaths of 10 police officers and four soldiers in northeastern Kenya.
An army sergeant on vacation and a civilian were shot dead Sunday in Garissa by gunmen. Mohammed said Sunday's attack could have been perpetrated with help from the locals. "How else would attacker have identified the soldier who was in civilian clothing?" he said.
The assassination-for-pay offer by al-Shabab varies with the security officer's rank, Mohammed said. Kenya has experienced a string of gun and grenade attacks since it sent troops into Somalia to pursue the al-Shabab extremists.
Three Kenyan soldiers who stopped at the army camp in the town on their way to Somalia were killed last month. One woman was shot and hundreds of shops were burned to the ground as the Kenyan army responded to the killings. Witnesses said Kenyan troops opened fire at random and torched the town's main market.
Mohammed said the militants' communication was intercepted on a VHF radio frequency.
Kenyan military spokesman Col. Cyrus Oguna said the military knows al-Shabab is offering a reward for the death of Lt. Col. Jeff Nyaga, who has been critical in Kenya's successful push against the militants in southern Somalia. Oguna said the militants are offering $8,000 for Nyaga's death.
"These are kicks of a dying horse. It's not something to take lightly but we also do not want to pay much attention to it," he said.
A human rights official said monetary gain is not the motivation behind the youths from Garissa and northern Kenya being sympathetic to al-Shabab.
Al-Amin Kimathi, the chairman of the Muslim Human Rights Forum, said research has shown that many of the youths who join al-Shabab did so out of religious conviction, Somali nationalism and a feeling of marginalization from the rest of Kenya.
"They think they are doing this because of jihad and will go to any extent to defend their positions, however misguided, "Kimathi said. "They take their savings and leave their families destitute to go and join al-Shabab, and when they come back their families are still destitute."
Kimathi said youths growing up in northern and eastern parts of Kenya see the security forces as a symbol of government oppression. Soon after independence in 1963 the region, known then as the Northern Frontier District, attempted to secede and join Somalia. The Kenya security forces crushed the secession bid but the operation raised numerous accusations of human rights abuses.