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

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid