By Kayla Ruble
Kenya's air force launched strikes in Somalia over the past 24 hours that reportedly destroyed two camps linked to the Islamist militant group al Shabaab, Kenyan military officials said Monday, kicking off the first round of military action to follow the massacre at Garissa University College last week that left 148 people dead.
The airstrikes occurred Sunday afternoon and Monday morning in the Gedo region, just across the border in southern Somalia. According to Reuters, Kenyan army spokesman David Obonyo said the mission was part of ongoing attempts to stop the al Qaeda-linked militant group from waging attacks on the Kenyan side of the border.
«The bombings are part of the continued process and engagement against al Shabaab, which will go on,» Obonyo told the BBC, saying the strikes were in response to «threats.»
A witness to the strikes reportedly told BBC Somali that the Kenyan attack wounded three civilians and destroyed livestock and wells in an area with no al Shabaab presence.
Garissa University College, located 120 miles from the border in northeastern Kenya, was the site of one of the deadliest terror attacks in the country's history on Thursday. Al Shabaab gunmen stormed the campus, targeting mostly non-Muslim students in a brutal attack that left a total of 142 university students and six security force members dead.
Kenya has been venturing into Somali territory to retaliate for al Shabaab attacks since 2011, with airstrikes occurring as recently as last June. In November, an air and ground mission across the border killed more than 100 suspected militants in response to a deadly attack that targeted Christian bus passengers in Kenya.
The most recent mission came just one day after Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called on the country's Muslims to keep radicalization in check, and promised to retaliate in the «severest way» for Thursday's university attack.
Kenyan security forces killed four suspected al Shabaab gunmen at Garissa and arrested five suspects in connection with the attack.
The government is offering a $220,000 reward for information about the alleged mastermind of the attack, a former Garissa teacher named Dulyadin Gamadhere.
«Our task of countering terrorism has been made all the more difficult by the fact that the planners and financiers of this brutality are deeply embedded in our communities,» Kenyatta said Saturday. «Radicalization that breeds terrorism is not conducted in the bush at night. It occurs in the full glare of day, in madrasas, in homes, and in mosques with rogue imams.»
One of the slain Garissa attackers was identified Sunday as Abdirahim Mohammed Abdullahi, a former law student and the son of a Kenyan government official.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka told the Associated Press that Abdullahi's father is a government chief in Madera, a county along the country's northeastern border. Abdullahi's father reportedly said he was concerned that his son, who had been missing since last year, had traveled to Somalia.
Reuters reported that the Kenyan government has started putting together a list of individuals who are missing or suspected of joining al Shabaab. Experts say Kenyans account for the largest group of foreigners fighting for the militant group.
Kenyan officials have also claimed the Dadaab refugee camp, which houses 500,000 displaced Somalis in northeast Kenya, is used as a training ground for al Shabaab and should be shut down.
The Garissa attack was the deadliest assault by al Shabaab in Kenya. Previously, a brutal four-day siege in September 2013 at Nairobi's Westgate mall resulted in more than 60 deaths. Al Qaeda was responsible for the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi that killed 213 people.
Garissa University College has been shut down since the attack. No date has been set for it to reopen.