NAIROBI: A British jihadist fighting for Somalia’s Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Shebab, is believed to have been killed in a thwarted attack on a Kenyan army base, a Kenyan defence spokesman said.
Thomas Evans is believed to have been among a group of militants who launched a pre-dawn raid Sunday on a Kenyan army base in Baure, close to the border with Somalia.
Two Kenyan soldiers were killed and at least 15 Shebab fighters died in the shootout, among them two “Caucasians”, according to Kenyan defence officials.
“All the available data, including photographs, points to it being Thomas Evans. There is an investigation going on with forensics and DNA to confirm his identity,” said Kenya Defence Forces spokesman Colonel David Obonyo.
If confirmed, Evans’ death would be the first reported case of a British Islamist militant being killed on Kenyan soil.
Evans, in his mid-20s and also known as Abdul Hakim, is a Muslim convert whose family lives in Buckinghamshire in southern England. In 2011, he reportedly travelled to Somalia, succeeding on his third attempt to join Shebab.
A statement issued by Evans’ mother Sally on Monday said, “My son Michael and I are currently awaiting official confirmation regarding the death of my son Thomas. We cannot comment any further at this time and request the press respect our privacy.”
The British embassy in Nairobi said it was “seeking to confirm reports” that a Briton had been killed.
In an interview with a British newspaper last year Sally Evans described the transformation of her hip-hop loving son when he converted to Islam aged 19.
She described how he stopped watching television, grew a beard, shaved his head and began using a twig instead of a toothbrush to clean his teeth.
Sally Evans said she had informed British police of her son’s journey to Somalia. “I would rather have Thomas alive behind bars than dead in the middle of nowhere,” she told The Sunday Times in 2014.
– Shebab under pressure in Somalia –
Kenya’s interior ministry posted a notice on its official Twitter account showing side-by-side photographs of Evans and a dead militant who resembled him, under the banner, “Thomas Evans aka Abdul Hakim Killed. Kenya Stands Strong!”
In a separate attack, also on Sunday, dozens of Shebab gunmen briefly took over a village in Lamu county. Kenyan officials said a major security operation was underway on Monday to pursue both groups of attackers.
The raids came on the anniversary of attacks that began in mid-June 2014 in which close to 100 people were killed in a series of armed assaults on the town of Mpeketoni and surrounding villages.
The attacks in Mpeketoni, close to the once-popular holiday island of Lamu, led to a collapse in tourism on Kenya’s coast after foreign governments warned their nationals against travel to the area.
On Monday, human rights groups said that Kenya’s security response to the Mpeketoni massacres had been marked by beatings, arbitrary detentions and theft.
Under pressure in Somalia, where it has for years been fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government, Shebab is now increasingly targeting Kenya.
In the group’s deadliest attack to date, four gunmen killed at least 148 people, mostly students, at a university in Garissa in early April. In September 2013, four Shebab gunmen killed at least 67 people in an assault on the Westgate mall in the capital Nairobi.
The Shebab were once a magnet for foreign volunteers, but their capacity to recruit has in recent years been eclipsed by the rise of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, while several foreign Shebab members have fallen victim to in-fighting and purges.
The highest-profile British Shebab supporter is terror suspect Samantha Lewthwaite, known as the “White Widow”. She is wanted in Kenya on charges of being in possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony dating back to December 2011. Her alleged accomplice, Jermaine Grant, is on trial in Mombasa accused of planning attacks on tourist hotels.
Lewthwaite, a 31-year-old Muslim convert, is the widow of Germaine Lindsay, one of four Islamist suicide bombers who attacked the London transport network on July 7, 2005, killing 52 people.
Despite repeated rumours there has been no confirmed sighting of her since she gave Kenyan police the slip in Mombasa in 2011.