is now pushing for Tanzania to join the fight - a proposal that could make the country a potential target for deadly suicide attacks by the terrorist organisation.
All the seven IGAD member states - Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda - have been previously attacked by the terrorist group with devastating consequences for their economies in terms of tourism and foreign investment inflows.
Tanzania, which is further south, is the only country in the region that is yet to come under direct attack from Al-Shabaab, largely due to its non-involvement in the military strikes against the group so far.
Kenya's tourism industry has seen a major decline since 2013 when Al-Shabaab militants carried out the deadly Westgate shopping mall attack, killing 67 people and injuring more than 175 people in mass shootings.
But IGAD said in a new 53-page report revealed this week that it now wants Tanzania to join the war against the Somali-based militants.
In its recommendations, the report titled 'Al-Shabaab as a Transnational Security Threat' calls for "more joint activities to confront Al-Shabaab and inviting Tanzania to participate in any IGAD-led efforts to counter this threat."
It noted that Al-Shabaab militants are a national security threat in the entire East African region and suggested that possibly hundreds of Tanzanian youths have been recruited to join the group.
Al Shabaab, an affiliate of Al Qaeda in the Horn of Africa region, has a presence in five countries - Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Tanzania and Uganda - and is working hard to extend its tentacles across the region, the report said.
Al Shabaab's most important affiliate in Kenya, Al-Hijra - a group formerly known as the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC) - is also present in Tanzania and elsewhere in the region, it added.
"In light of Tanzania’s importance to both Al-Shabaab and Al-Hijra as a place of refuge, a base for operational planning, and a source of explosives, IGAD member states should consider inviting Tanzania to participate in any joint efforts to counter this threat," the report said.
AL-SHABAAB PRESENCE IN TANZANIA
Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda have all repeatedly been targeted by violent attacks from Al-Shabaab.
"Only Tanzania has not been targeted, while an attempted suicide attack in Ethiopia ended when the bombers accidentally blew themselves up without causing any other casualties," said the report.
IGAD said Al-Hijra's former leader Abubakar Shariff Ahmed ‘Makaburi’ a.k.a. ‘Buda’, who was killed by unidentified gunmen in a Mombasa street in 2014, also extended his influence beyond Al-Hijra to members of the ‘Ansar movement’ in Tanga, known as the Ansar Muslim Youth Centre.
It said suspected terrorists used Tanzania to set up hideouts and safe houses, plan terrorist attacks, and procure explosives which it mentioned as being easily available thanks to gold mining activities in the country.
Said the report: "Since 2006, the conflict in Somalia has left its mark on a generation of young East Africans, propelling growing numbers towards extremism.
Al-Hijra and its affiliates in Kenya and Tanzania have sent hundreds – possibly thousands – of extremists to fight alongside Al-Shabaab in Somalia".
"This exodus to Somalia continues, in part because of that country’s geographic proximity, and in part because of the presence of many East Africans already within the ranks of Al-Shabaab.
But recent evidence also suggests that extremist migrants to Somalia may now be motivated by the desire to escape the scrutiny of security services in their home countries."
There have been several publicised arrests of East African nationals in 2015 attempting to cross into Somalia via the Kenyan border to join Al-Shabaab, IGAD said.
The report continued: "In spite of having limited coverage on the Ansar chapters in Tanzania (Ansar Muslim Youth Centres), an emerging network in that country has operational ties to the Kenyan affiliate, Al-Hijra and unconfirmed connections to Mombasa-based cells."
"Although its motivation remains unclear, an initial assessment of the network suggests a financial rather than an ideological inclination. This is also apparent from the network’s criminal background and access to the fishing and mining sectors across Tanzania."
Observations of the network over the past year strongly point to it helping and negotiating on behalf of Al-Hijra for explosives and small arms for a fee, the report said.
"For example, between February and August 2015, credible information confirms the network on at least three occasions attempted to assist with the facilitation and procurement of weapons for Al-Hijra’s attack planning," it added.
"Preliminary information provided by an Al-Hijra operative suggests that the network has extensive coverage across Tanzania, including some known extremist hotspots," it continued.
According to information gathered from one Al-Hijra operative, these locations include Arusha, Dar es Salaam, Mwanza and Mtwara.
"Additionally, according to anecdotal reporting, the individuals linked to the network are mainly Tanzanians," the report said.
It also mentioned that investigators are checking out a possible Kenyan terrorist, ‘Danmera,’ who was previously active in Mombasa before seeking sanctuary in Tanzania.
"Historically, members of the Ansar chapters in Tanzania have been operationally linked to other affiliates like Al-Hijra. While during the current reporting period there have been publicised cases of ‘Al-Shabaab-linked groups’ in Tanzania, the credibility of this information has not yet been fully assessed," it said.
Contacted for comment yesterday, the Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) in Tanzania, Commissioner of Police Diwan Athumani, told The Guardian he hasn’t seen the IGAD report and thus can’t comment on its findings.
“I am not ready to speak on these issues ... because we are not sure where they got their information from,” Diwani said.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Ambassador Augustine Mahiga, was not immediately available to answer queries about whether Tanzania has received a formal request from IGAD to join the war against Al-Shabaab.
Critics are already calling for Kenya to withdraw its military troops from Somalia, describing the ongoing war against Al-Shabaab as a “never-ending quagmire.”
Analysts warn that any move by Tanzania to join the IGAD-led war on Al-Shabaab will only invite direct deadly attacks like that of April last year, when Al-Shabaab gunmen stormed the Garissa University College in Kenya, killed 148 people and injured 79 more.