The State Department is warning that violent extremist groups could be scheming an attack in Nairobi, Kenya — a warning that comes weeks after al-Shabab militants attacked U.S. and Kenyan forces in Manda Bay, Kenya in January.
“Terrorist groups may be plotting an attack against a major hotel in Nairobi,” the State Department said in a security alert Thursday. “The exact hotel has not been identified, but it is believed to be a hotel popular with tourists and business travelers.”
Though the State Department did not identify specific violent extremist groups, multiple terrorist groups exist in Africa, including al-Shabab and ISIS. According to the Counter Extremism Project, a non-profit international policy organization that works to counter extremism, al-Shabab is the most vibrant extremist group within Kenya.
AFRICOM claims there are approximately 5,000 to 7,000 al-Shabab militants in Somalia, and an average of 650 to 800 U.S. forces in Somalia at any given time.
Additionally, AFRICOM officials told reporters last month they suspected that the al-Shabab militants involved in the Manda Bay attack originated in Somalia, and then entered Kenya after they received assistance from facilitators within Kenya. During the Jan. 5 attack, Army Spc. Henry Mayfield Jr., 23, and two U.S. Department of Defense contractors Dustin Harrison, 47, and Bruce Triplett, 64, were killed.
On Tuesday, AFRICOM announced that a senior al-Shabab leader who was behind the planning of the attack was killed following a series of airstrikes in Somalia over the weekend.
Al-Shabab has also conducted multiple attacks in Kenya against civilians. For example, the violent extremist organization was responsible for an attack in January 2019 at the DusitD2 Hotel in Nairobi that killed more than 20 people, including one American, according to CNN.
Meanwhile, AFRICOM ramped up airstrikes in Somalia in 2019 and carried out a total of 63 strikes, the most the command has ever conducted in one year in the country. Most of those strikes targeted al-Shabab militants.
“Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate, is an evil and remorseless enemy of peace, stability, and freedom in East Africa and threatens the very way of life of people there, as well as Americans and U.S. interest in the region and abroad,” AFRICOM commander U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said in a statement Tuesday.
AFRICOM officials have stressed that al-Shabab has a desire to attack the U.S. homeland, although AFRICOM officials do not believe that the group has the capacity to pull off such an attack at this time.
“It is important to impact their ability to threaten peace and security in East Africa and prevent their threats against the U.S. from being a reality,” Townsend said.