News / Africa

    Mall Attack Shows al-Shabab Still Potent Force

    Kenya Defense Forces soldiers move at the main entrance of Westgate shopping centre, on the fourth day since militants stormed into the mall, in Nairobi, Sept. 24, 2013.
    Kenya Defense Forces soldiers move at the main entrance of Westgate shopping centre, on the fourth day since militants stormed into the mall, in Nairobi, Sept. 24, 2013.
    Two years after Kenyan troops deployed to Somalia to fight al-Shabab and help pave the way for the first government in 20 years, al-Shabab has taken its fight to Kenya. The Westgate Mall terrorist attack is an indication of the militant group's intentions and capabilities.

    In October 2011 Kenyan forces moved into Somalia to counter alleged cross-border kidnappings and attacks by al-Shabab.  Within a week, the militant group threatened that it would bring down skyscrapers in Nairobi unless Kenyan soldiers withdrew. 

    The group finally made good on that threat September 21, when armed men stormed an upscale mall in Nairobi, killing scores of people, injuring about 175, and taking others hostage. 

    Security experts in the region and some foreign embassies had warned the group was planning an attack on this scale in Kenyan cities.

    • Smoke rises from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 25 2013. 
    • Catholic nuns pray near the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 25, 2013.
    • Fresh graves of Westgate Mall shooting victims in a cemetery in Nairobi, Sept. 25, 2013. 
    • Kenyan security forces stand on the top floor of a building facing the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 25, 2013.
    • Mary Italo, center, grieves with other relatives for her son Thomas Abayo Italo, 33, who was killed in the Westgate Mall attack, as they wait to receive his body at the mortuary in Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 25, 2013. 
    • Kenya Defense Forces soldiers take their position at the Westgate Mall, on the fourth day since militants stormed into the mall, in Nairobi, Sept. 24, 2013.
    • Heavy smoke rises from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 23, 2013.
    • Paramedics run outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi after heavy shooting, Sept. 23, 2013.
    • People donate blood for people injured in the attack at the Westgate Mall, at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Sept. 23, 2013.
    • Stephen, center, who lost his father in Saturday's attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, is comforted by relatives as he waits for the post mortem exam at the city morgue, Sept. 23, 2013.
    • Women carrying children run for safety as armed police hunt gunmen at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2013.
    • Civilians who had been hiding inside during the gun battle manage to flee from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2013.

    Emmanuel Kisiangani, a senior researcher with the Nairobi-based Institute for Security Studies, says it appears the attackers were veterans with the terror group and were well-prepared and trained. 

    “It looks like people who have been with the group for some time," he said.  "We have heard information they have had come from different countries.  But to organize something like that you need to do a lot of ground work to do a lot of surveillance.  So it’s not something [where] you just come in.  You have to know how the mall is. So it looks like people who have been with the group for a while.”

    Al-Shabab has steadily been losing ground in Somalia and has been weakened by a concerted military effort from a multi-national African Union force and Somali government troops.  Once they controlled large portions of the country; more recently they have only been able to carry out hit-and-run attacks.

    The result has been a fracturing within the group on how to re-invigorate the fight for its objectives for a greater Somalia under its interpretation of strict Islamic law. 

    Some al-Shabab leaders want their fighters to operate within Somalia only, while others, like Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Godane, are pushing a more global Jihad or holy war.

    In an interview with VOA, the former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, David Shinn, said the Nairobi attack may signal the group’s shifting focus toward neighboring countries to maximize impact.

    “Al-Shabab is not able to go toe-to-toe with professional military organizations like the Kenyan or African Union forces. So it engages in suicide bombings, occasional guerilla attacks - but that doesn’t get it big headlines," he said. "The only way it can get a big headline is to pull off a big event like this in Kenya - attacking unarmed civilians in a soft target.”

    Focusing on neighboring countries has also meant recruiting fighters there - which may have given al-Shabab an insider’s advantage in the Westgate mall attack.

     Al-Shabab Timeline

    • 2006 - Launches insurgency to take control of Somalia and impose strict Islamic law
    • 2008 - U.S. declares al-Shabab a foreign terrorist organization
    • 2009 - Seizes control of parts of Mogadishu and the port city Kismayo
    • 2010 - Expands control across central and southern Somalia, carries out deadly bombing in Kampala, Uganda
    • 2011 - Blocks drought/famine aid from areas under its control
    • 2011 - East African leaders declare al-Shabab a regional threat; Ethiopian, Kenyan troops enter Somalia to pursue the group, which is driven out of Mogadishu
    • 2012 - Declares itself an al-Qaida ally, loses ground in Somalia, abandons strategic coastal stronghold Kismayo
    • 2013 - Attacks Mogadishu court complex, killing more than 30 and attacks mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 69 people
    The United Nations estimates that al-Shabab has recruited as many as 500 Kenyan youth in recent years, many of them from impoverished families with limited opportunities.

    Ali Edachi, a Kenyan community activist and a resident the Nairobi slum known as Majengo, says Kenyan police should have been more vigorous in rooting out these young men - who are well known to the community.

    “There is tension and fear in Majengo,” he says, and local young men who are back from Somalia and are well-armed have gone into hiding after the mall attack.

    Kisiangani agrees that Kenya’s internal security posture has been lax.

    “So it looks like it was an opportunity.  They strike when there has been a lull.  In recent past we have not had attacks even grenade attacks for a while.  So people at the guard they were not quite cautious about security.  So the group chose because it was an opportune time to strike because the security was so much lapsed,” said Kisiangani.

    The coordination and intensity of the Westgate Mall attack has stunned most Kenyans.  The Kenyan government believes it was carried out by a group of about a dozen or so multi-national attackers with surprising sophistication.

    Some experts suggest this attack was designed not only to pressure Kenyan troops to leave Somalia, but also to show al-Shabab is still a force to be reckoned with despite its losses in Somalia.

    Kenya’s president said his government is resolved to hunt down the group, inside and out of the country.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Paul Gesimba from: Nairobi
    September 25, 2013 3:31 AM
    Tha AMISOM forces in Somalia must be boosted by the inclusion of Ethiopian troops who strike terror in the hearts of the Al- Shabab .The way the Ethiopians routed out the Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu proved that they are fearless and fierce fighters who can easily wipe out any guerrilla forces or army .

    by: Condemning Violent Jihad from: USA
    September 25, 2013 1:26 AM
    Potent? Definitely not!!...Killing unarmed innocent children and women is the act of desperate impotent cowards seeking attemtion... bloodlusting sociopaths bringing shame to Islam and. anyone who has supported them. Killing innocents underscores the depth of ideological bankruptcy to which Al Shabaab and Al Queda have fallen. At least some lower level imams have issued fatwahs against Al Shabaab...but where is the voice of Ayatollah level imams?

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.