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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

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?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid