NAIROBI, Kenya — They have lost their leader, their ports, their checkpoints and their territory.
They have lost thousands of men and much of their money.
They have no fleet of armored personnel carriers like Boko Haram’s. Or poppy fields like the Taliban’s. Or oil fields like the Islamic State’s.
In the pecking order of the world’s leading terrorist groups, the Shabab militants, based in Somalia, operate on a shoestring budget. But as the attack on a Kenyan university last week showed, they have become proficient in something terrible: mass murder on the cheap.
In the past two years, bare-bones Shabab teams of young gunmen have struck across Kenya, at a mall, on buses, at a quarry, in a coastal village and last week at a university, where four militants with rudimentary assault rifles killed 142 students.
In all, they have slaughtered hundreds of people and shaken Kenya, an economic powerhouse and cornerstone of stability in this part of Africa, with just a few men and a handful of light weapons.
“I call it the dumbing down of terrorism,” said Matt Bryden, a researcher in Nairobi who has been working on Somalia for more than 20 years. “They keep it simple. They’re lightly armed, highly disciplined and relatively well trained.”