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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs