Security authorities in Garissa County say they are concerned that the conflict between the Ethiopian government and the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) is spilling over into Kenya with fatal consequences.

Armed members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebel group during a briefing in Aado District, Ethiopia, on October 9, 2011. A number of individuals associated with ONLF have been killed in a recent string of assassinations in Garissa, Kenya. [ONLF]

Abdi Mohammed, one of a number of Garissa residents who chased down a man suspected of being behind the recent killings of Ethiopian nationals, recovers from a gunshot wound at Garissa General Hospital on July 10th. [Bosire Boniface/Sabahi]

ONLF is a rebel group that has been fighting with the Ethiopian government since 1984 for independence of the Ogaden region, a territory contested with Somalia during the Ogaden War in 1977-78 and inhabited by mostly ethnic Somalis.

Garissa County Director of Criminal Investigation Department Musa Yego said local authorities are concerned that the conflict may have spilled over into Kenya following a string of assassinations in Garissa of Ethiopian nationals suspected to be ONLF members.

On June 1st, Muslim cleric Sheikh Abdirashid Mohamed “Jelani” was shot dead after leaving Khalifa Mosque in Garissa town.

Then on June 17th, gunmen shot and seriously injured two men identified as Abdirashid Geel Qaad and Deek Mohammed Ahmed, who was Jelani’s brother.

Ten days later on June 27th, gunmen shot Abdirashid Ali Bashir, 36, around Guled area in Garissa town.

The killings continued with Khathar Ismail, 28, shot dead at a cafeteria in Garissa town on July 1st, followed by the assassination on July 9th of his cousin Mohammed Hassan Abdi, a 48-year-old shopkeeper along Guled Road.

Yego said police have arrested five suspects, including three Ethiopians, in connection with the killings. The victims, he said, were all Ethiopian nationals with refugee status who had been in Kenya for several years.

“We have no doubt that they are part of a hit squad that has been responsible for some of the killings in Garissa,” he told Sabahi, describing the arrests as a major breakthrough. “They have been killing under the cover of thenumerous al-Shabaab attacks. We hope to make more arrests and end the senseless killings.”

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