Yesterday there was a diary lamenting the lack of discussion of this tragedy in which terrorists stormed a popular shopping mall in Nairobi. Whatever the reasons for not having many diaries on the subject, it was suggested that the diarist had every right to write such a diary, and he more or less agreed. Since I wondered the same things about the lack of discussion, and I try not to be someone who expects others to do that which he is not willing, I figured I'd try a go at it myself, given the rapidly changing situation on the ground.
This was the deadliest attack in Kenya since the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings. The terrorists responsible for the attack entered the capital city's Westgate Premier Shopping mall around noon local time on Saturday, lobbing grenades and firing weapons, killing at least 62 people and injuring more than 175 (five Americans are among the wounded). The latest reports suggest that the tide has turned against the perpetrators:
Kenyan security forces on Monday seized control of a luxury shopping mall that had been attacked by Islamist militants, but officials said some assailants remained hidden inside stores in the mall and little was known about who staged the brazen attack and what countries they came from.
Who is Responsible and Why?
It is generally believed that (and credit/responsibility is claimed by) a group known as al-Shabab is behind this attack. Per CBS News, the organization is linked to al-Qaeda, but has its roots in Somalia and with ex-pat Somali communities:
Al-Shabab, which means "youth" in Arabic, was established in 2006 as a militant wing of the Islamic fundamentalist forces that controlled parts of Somalia at the time. Its stated mission was to bring Islamic sharia law to Somalia and topple the government.Spokesmen for al-Shabab have said that they staged this attack as retribution for the Kenyan military presence in Somalia, where Kenyan troops have driven al-Shabab fighters out of much of the territory they once controlled. On Twitter, al-Shabab said that they have "on numerous occasions warned the Kenyan government failure to remove its forces from Somalia would have severe consequences." The also claimed that "[t]he attack at Westgate mall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders."
By 2008, the U.S. had designated it a foreign terrorist group. In 2012, the organization formally allied itself with al Qaeda, issuing a joint announcement by the head of al-Shabab and Ayman al-Zawahri, then al Qaeda's deputy leader. Al-Shabab has provided the larger network significant cash from it's lucrative kidnapping and piracy operations in Somalia in return for weapons.
An unknown number of young Somali-American men, predominantly from areas in the U.S. like Minnesota and Oregon where there are large Somali populations, have been drawn in by the group's propaganda and traveled to eastern Africa to join its ranks.
Twitter has, as of this writing, shut down three al-Shabab accounts.
Conflicting reports have emerged as to how much of the mall and/or its shops are owned by Israeli interests, as this was initially thought to be part of the motivation of the attackers. However al-Shabab has not mentioned Israel as a reason, and Israeli sources have publicly stated that they have nothing to suggest that they were targeted.
What is the Latest?
The Washington Post reports that "Kenyan security forces...seized control of" the mall, "but officials said some assailants remained hidden inside stores in the mall and little was known about who staged the brazen attack and what countries they came from."
Agence France-Presse reports that Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku told reporters, "We think the operation will come to an end soon...We are in control of all the floors...The terrorists are running and hiding in some stores...There is no room for escape."
For their part, al-Shabab has claimed that they are still in control of the mall.
Whatever the final result, I think we can all hope and pray for an end without further loss of life and that those who are behind the attack and survive are brought to justice.