Kenyan police warned Thursday of the risk of attacks by Islamist Shebab insurgents claiming they had split into rival factions, with some shifting allegiance from Al-Qaida to Islamic State.
"They have split, and as a result of the split, particularly those ones along ideological lines or religious lines are very keen to promote that competition by proving a point," police chief Joseph Boinnet told reporters Thursday, as Kenyans prepare to celebrate Christmas in the east African nation.
"They plan to prove a point by staging attacks," Boinnet added, without giving more specific details.
"That makes us in real and present danger of being hit by those murderous elements."
The Shebab, East Africa's long-time Al-Qaida branch, is headquartered in Somalia where it is fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu, which is protected by 22,000 African Union troops, including Kenyan soldiers.
The Islamists have lost much ground in recent years but remain a threat in both Somalia and neighboring Kenya, where factions have carried out a series of attacks, including the killing of at least 67 people at Nairobi's Westgate Mall in 2013 and the massacre of 148 people at a university in Garissa in April.
The militants say the attacks are retaliation for the Kenyan military presence in Somalia and "war crimes" committed by Kenyan troops.
Inside Somalia, some factions were reported to have pledged their allegiance to IS in October.
But pro-IS groups have been attacked and their leaders assassinated as Shebab emir and Al-Qaida loyalist Ahmed Diriye seeks to shore up his control.
The statement Thursday is the first time Kenya has said there were also IS factions operating in the country.
Those now loyal to IS operate in the far northeastern Mandera region, while the Al-Qaida force is based in the southeastern Boni Forest district, police said.
"We are sounding the alert to tell our people to remain very vigilant and not to drop their guard, because Al-Shebab in its many manifestations is still a threat," Boinnet told reporters.
It was not immediately clear if Shebab forces had made any public declarations of a change in allegiance.
The reported divisions come at a time when Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has become the jihadist franchise of choice, attracting fighters from abroad and the allegiance of other militant groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria.
But Al-Qaida has also recently expanded its territory in Yemen, just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.
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