Terror in Nairobi: Behind al-Shabab’s War With Kenya

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Siegfried Modola / Reuters

A police officer secures an area as civilians flee inside the Westgate mall in Nairobi on Sept. 21, 2013

A swanky, high-end mall in Nairobi is the site of a deadly standoff between Kenyan forces and fighters linked to the al-Qaeda-backed Somali terror group al-Shabab. On Saturday, gunmen burst into the mall, tossing grenades “like maize to chickens” and indiscriminately targeting shoppers enjoying their weekend. At least 68 people are reported dead, including an unspecified number of foreign nationals, and more than 175 injured.

According to reports, the gunmen shouted in Swahili that Muslims would be allowed to leave; all others appeared subject to their slaughter. By Sunday night, Kenya’s military said it had rescued “most” of the remaining hostages from inside the ritzy Westgate and secured most of the mall, according to the Associated Press, after the government’s crisis center tweeted earlier in the day that “major operations” were “underway” to end the two-day standoff.

“This will end tonight. Our forces will prevail. Kenyans are standing firm against aggression, and we will win,” Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Centre said on Twitter.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who claimed to have lost “very close family members” in the attack, spoke defiantly, saying: “We have overcome terrorist attacks before. We will defeat them again.” The BBC confirmed al-Shabab’s role in the strike late Saturday night. Before its Twitter account was suspended, al-Shabab had assumed responsibility for the attack, justifying the massacre as a response to the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia. A timeline of its tweets during the attack can be read here, including a chilling remark: “There will be no negotiations whatsoever at #Westgate.” Here’s what you need to know about al-Shabab and its war with Kenya:

What Is al-Shabab?
The group, whose name means the Youth in Arabic, was once the militant youth wing of a coalition of Islamist forces that held sway in parts of Somalia more than half a decade ago. The country has had no real functional central government for over two decades, and the Islamists, for a time, provided a veneer of security and stability despite the harshness of the Shari‘a they sought to impose. That control slipped following a series of offensives spearheaded by the African Union, beginning with an Ethiopian-led invasion in 2006. In early 2012, a video emerged of a top leader of al-Shabab pledging obedience to Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s head. Over the past half-decade, foreign fighters, including some Americans, have streamed in to join al-Shabab’s ranks, which are believed to number in the thousands. But, shorn of an urban base, the group has been forced to resort to guerrilla tactics. It has also been beset by internal divisions and internecine fighting.

What Is Kenya’s Role in All of This?
Al-Shabab fighters had launched a number of minor forays across Somalia’s porous southern border with Kenya, kidnapping tourists and aid workers. By 2011, after al-Shabab impeded humanitarian aid into southern Somalia during a ghastly drought, the Kenyan government had had enough. It launched a sustained military campaign across the border, eventually dislodging al-Shabab from its stronghold in the Somali port city of Kismayo in 2012, a defeat from which the group has yet to recover. The continued Kenyan military presence in Somalia rankles the militants, who have opportunistically tried to champion the cause of Muslims elsewhere in East Africa as well as ethnic Somalis living in Kenya. Such a deadly strike abroad is not without precedent for this terrorist group: in 2010, bombs planted by al-Shabab killed dozens watching the soccer World Cup in the Ugandan capital Kampala — supposed punishment for Uganda’s contribution to the African Union peacekeeping forces stationed in Somalia.

Why Target a Mall?
The strike on the Westgate mall, a soft target teeming with civilians, carries echoes of the 2008 attack by Pakistani-based militants on some of the ritziest hotels in Mumbai, India’s coastal metropolis. In both cases, gunmen invaded places frequented by the well-heeled and well-traveled and carried out indiscriminate slaughter. The goal is to shock, to draw attention to a militant group’s boldness and capability, and to hit panic buttons in the government of the country under attack. From being a faction in disarray and retreat, al-Shabab has rewritten the narrative with the blood of innocents. It’s back.

How Dangerous Is the Threat?
Once Kenyan forces defeat the remaining militants in the mall, scrutiny will fall first on the security lapses that surrounded this horrific attack. Expect also greater global hand-wringing about terrorist threats in East Africa and beyond. Al-Shabab’s continued activity is seen alongside that of other jihadist outfits in Africa — including Nigeria’s Boko Haram and al-Qaeda’s North African wing. In 2012, U.S. military officials warned that these organizations were deepening their ties with each other and possibly coordinating their actions. Aggressive military campaigns in recent years against all these terrorist groups — the Nigerian army on Boko Haram; the French on al-Qaeda-backed militants in Mali; the African Union on al-Shabab — have been unable to fully root any of them out. And, as the strike on the Westgate mall shows, extremist violence knows no borders.

124 comments
PANATAG
PANATAG

Neu 13 Mar

"I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom."George Patton“If you do not have anything good to say, don't say anything at all.” 

gandalf.the.shining.white
gandalf.the.shining.white

Another shocking event. But we should not be surprised. These pious Muslims are obeying Gods instructions. To the letter. Please refer to the Koran. It gives explicit detail on how to deal with non-muslims. Why were the Muslims separated at the Mall?

I would suggest to all that are sufficiently shocked by this event, that they read the Koran (plenty online) to see the level of violence mandated by their God, to ALL non-muslims. Plenty of Muslims have no idea about the violent aspect to their 'religion'. And most of those who know, have vested interests, and a very strong 'hate the West ' instinct, far greater than we in the west could imagine, to keep such matters quiet..

They are obeying the dictate of their religion, insofar as they are copying the actions of Allah, the Perfect Man. He was not successful as a prophet of his religion. 15 years in , he had 150 followers. He was immensely successful as a warrior, and conducted around 50 jihads, to conquer the Arabian peninsula, by treaty, conversion or creating alliances.

Eyad Salloum
Eyad Salloum

PLEASE HELP GETTING THE TRUTH TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. Most of the rebels fighters in Syria are either Al-Qaeda foreign fighters or Al-Qaeda affiliate Syrian fighters and their only goal is to create an Islamic state similar to the Taliban state in Afghanistan . The strongest group among the rebels is "Al-Nusra Front " which was recently added by the US government to the list of terrorist groups, and now we are going to send lethal weapons to them ?? The CIA and the Pentagon have openly announced that they are training foreign fighters in Jordan then smuggling them to Syria to fight against the Syrian government . Does president Obama know that once they are done fighting in Syria they will send their jihadist to attack American interests all over the world and probably inside the US. SO HOW IS IT IN OUR NATIONAL INTEREST TO SUPPORT AL-QAEDA IN SYRIA ? PLEASE STOP ARMING THE REBELS IN SYRIA .

paulgeorges
paulgeorges

Perhaps someone will ask to help in Syria such good guys who kill innocents people ?

lisamowmow
lisamowmow

@TIME @TIMEWorld I don't want to see their pictures or read their names, so they can be glorified by fanatics. Anonymous thugs, dead.

lisamowmow
lisamowmow

@TIME @TIMEWorld Who cares? Don't give their names. They can't win fighting army so they dress as women and kill children. Cowardly roaches.

oamuwtikcus
oamuwtikcus

I dont blame all Muslims, but I do blame Islam. It is a corrupt and cancerous ideology which has brought no benefit to this world. We must not be silenced by political correctness, we must clearly identify the root of this evil: Islam. 

AlexFeltham
AlexFeltham

Islamist terrorism is distinct from political and nationalistic. They don't generally torture and kill to achieve any demands, They torture and kill to simply torture and kill. That's what they are. Killing is not a regrettable necessity, but the whole point. That's why they often torture their victims, e.g., Beslan, Mumbai.

But cheer up we have a new ally in the "War on Terror". With the CIA are supplying the FSA in Syria we are now allies of Al Qaeda.

There's a great take on that in: "Our Enemy's Enemy Is Our Enemy" at:

http://john-moloney.blogspot.com/#!/2013/09/our-enemys-enemy-is-our-enemy.html



Billie Beights
Billie Beights

Religion is personal when will people get that and stop trying to play God

nature.power35
nature.power35

alShabab , Boko Haram , Jabhat al-Nusra and countless other denominations are offshoots of al-Qa'ida . Some are window dressed by CIA as "freedom fighters" as it is the case in Syria , and others as terrorists as in Mali , Kenya and elsewhere   . As long as al-Qa'ida is manipulated by CIA and funded by Saudi Arabia petrodollar and radical , Wahhabi , spiteful ideology  , the suicide bombings , massacres and cannibalism would continue ... 

ModernGyspy
ModernGyspy

@TIME @TIMEWorld rather odd word to use the word 'fighters'. 'Terrorists' or 'criminals' would be more appropriate wouldn't you think?

Mohamad Al-Assad
Mohamad Al-Assad

In 2007 and ruled by the same Regime, Syria was the third country in the world in terms of safety, in 2013, thanx to the Revolution,Syria has become the most dangerous place to live in .

Mohamad Al-Assad
Mohamad Al-Assad

Do you really think that a country like Saudi Arabia supports the Syrian opposition in order to spread democracy? Did you know that women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive a car?

Mohamad Al-Assad
Mohamad Al-Assad

Waving a different flag other than the National flag is an immoral act against other Syrians who respect their national flag. Is that what revolutions are about???

Mohamad Al-Assad
Mohamad Al-Assad

You are pushing towards toppling the Regime in Syria only because the Syrian Non-national Opposition and its followers strive for it, have you ever thought about those people who don't have a problem with this Regime??

Huseyin Gazi Ozdemir
Huseyin Gazi Ozdemir

This is not war this is just anarchie and not ıslam! Go hell el sabab'!

GregAbdul
GregAbdul

Don't like going into this one too much because i end up explaining too much. 


I will say: the goal of al qaeda and al shabab is hate. They attack Westerners and holler Allah Akbar...so you can say all Muslims are like them. They are fringe criminals and they hope their actions drive mainstream Muslims to the fringe and the only way that happens is when rural types start with the all-Muslims-are-terrorists line. That is their goal in killing so many people. They want a religious war. So to defeat them we need to follow our books that tell us to love one another.....it's that simple. 

JeanLudvigsenBinder
JeanLudvigsenBinder

it is so easy to wreak havoc and hard to build.  The "youth" grow up and settle down but there are always restless youth to replace them.  These kids are so misguided.  Their Muslim neighbors need to help raise them in ways of peace.

gandalf.the.shining.white
gandalf.the.shining.white

@oamuwtikcus , we know for certain what is  behind these heinous and cowardly acts. Muslims acting for their God, as mandated in the Koran. The level of violence to be inflicted on non-muslims in the Koran is truly terrifying.- AND IS BEING ACTED OUT EVERY DAY, and all over the world. Their jihad is for all time, everywhere, no exceptions, while they have the means to do it. (Read the Koran, plenty online, or the anti-jihad sites for references to the verses.)

Openminded1
Openminded1

@oamuwtikcus It is muslims that carry out the evil fanatical religion moron, so they are to blame.

gandalf.the.shining.white
gandalf.the.shining.white

@Billie Beights , yes, religion is their own business , in my view. EXCEPT, Islam has a political ideology, as mandated by the Koran (look up the jihad verses online), which has a direct relevance to YOU, as a non-muslim. Your life is in danger for ever, and everywhere, as a result. There is also a huge propaganda effort, called jihad of the pen, and jihad of speech, where there are lies made up about the true nature of Islam, but the majority of muslims (moderate muslims)  are unaware of the violent hate that is in the Koran, and Islam, because they are told it is a ' religion of peace', by all their imams, teachers, writers etc. (Which is why they always profess as much, they are not lying, in their ignorance they simply don't know.)

In my humble opinion, everybody, Muslims and non-Muslims, should be told the Truth about the inviolate doctrine of hate in the Koran. To incite violence, cause terror, intimidate, apply any pressure, humiliate, even torture, maim, and kill, IN THE NAME OF GOD.  (You have them them shout this as they fire guns, or hurl missiles.)

We have had the propaganda from both 'Muslim Councils' and Politicians. Now is the time for them to admit the TRUTH as contained in the Koran. An ideology of utter contempt, and hatred, for anything, and anyone who is not in their religion. Anything other than truth is simply insulting our intelligence.


Openminded1
Openminded1

@Billie Beights religion is not personal when fanatical muslims ass holes kill innocent non-muslims because they do not agree with there fanatical bs. it stops being personal. muslims are playing god they take lives when they want where they want.  religious fanatics.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@nature.power35 It is just f-ing Muslim fanatics, nothing more or less. Peaceful people my ass, religious fanatics, and killers.

gandalf.the.shining.white
gandalf.the.shining.white

@Joseph Johnson  This is the Propaganda side of Islam. Always tell the same story. Many Muslims themselves, are under the illusion that it is a religion of peace, because that is what they have been told, by their teachers, imams, and other people in authority. Which is why 'moderate Muslims', will be sincere in their belief, that it is a religion of peace. They are ignorant of the truth. Similarly, many politicians in Europe, USA, CAnada, and elsewhere, have been fed this lie. Indeed, as far as I am concerned, the religious part of islam is not a problem. It is the political part of Islam, the part that incites humiliation, contempt, intimidation, and yes terror, violence, rape and murder. And that is mandated over and over again in the Koran.

gandalf.the.shining.white
gandalf.the.shining.white

@GregAbdul Don't go into it, read the Jihad verses of the Koran, they are hard to miss, once you know what you are looking for. Then realise what danger YOU personally are in. When you realise, you will want to do something about it. And that is to EDUCATE people about the hidden message in the Koran. The dual aspect of Islam, the 'religion of peace' and the 'ideology of war', that co-exist in the same Islam. peace and the Jihad, at the same time? get it? The western mind sees confusion, but it is perfectly clear to a Muslim mind.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@GregAbdul You stupid bleeding heart moron, muslims will always kill and they can not be trusted. And God did not wright the bible or the book of mormon, or the koran or any other alleged good book. They all were written by people who were not gods, just wishful thinking religious nut cases in there own minds thinking what the wrote is true and the way it should be. morons.

PoppaCharlie
PoppaCharlie

@RyanJFAThey do what they do to instill terror.  Look up "terrorism" and "terrorist".  Wikipedia would be a good start.  

gandalf.the.shining.white
gandalf.the.shining.white

@JeanLudvigsenBinder The problem is the political side of Islam. A side that is rarely mentioned. The side that deals with the approach of Islam to non-muslims. The side that creates a 'peace and love viewpoint' , hiding the TRUE aspirations of Islam, as dictated by the Koran. To subjugate the whole of the world to Islam. And that is what these killings are about. No more, no less. This 'convert or die, or be subject to continual humiliation and oppression', is what these killings are about. 'Terror' is absolutely mandated in the Koran. Look up 'jihad verses in the Koran'. They are mandated to kill non-muslims at all times, and everywhere.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@JeanLudvigsenBinder bleeding heart nice sentiment but not going to happen in our life time. S o go out and enjoy your life as much as you can, love your family, drink fine wine, eat at fine dining establishments, travel and get laid if you still can and stop worry about muslims they are a danger to society just keep a wide berth around them you should be ok if you do not get hit by a train or something.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@Greg Fairweather With him you never know ,he was funded by the Muslim brotherhood, maybe it is pay back time.

OzarkGranny
OzarkGranny

@Openminded1 Open, there is some sense in what you say, but your belligerence makes it hard to focus on that. 

RyanJFA
RyanJFA

@PoppaCharlie @RyanJFA  

 Accidentally deleted my original comment. I'm sorry if I'm having a hard time taking your response seriously, though - you're the one spouting off hateful rhetoric down below, right? Maybe you haven't noticed, but most "terror" groups do seem to have missions that fall in line with certain goals, as well as theological and moral justifications for their actions. Go look read the interviews of some of those connected to 9/11 - most of them didn't just want to "instill terror" so much as they were working a means to an end that included violence in the hopes of securing an eventual peace or what they believed to be a rightful place for their group. 

Don't try to simplify a complex issue by saying, "oh, they're just trying to scare us." Quite a few of those in al-Qaeda probably think they're defending the Muslim Ummah by blowing bombs off at soldiers and plotting against the United States. FYI, if you'd have bothered to take your own advice, you'd realize that a terrorist, by definition, is one who uses "terror" towards the furthering of a greater political or ideological cause. Politics and ideologies often includes explanations and justifications,  as well as their own strands of logic (those in less fortunate circumstances need assistance, hence welfare or unemployment). 

Openminded1
Openminded1

@OzarkGranny @Openminded1 It is not belligerence granny , it is bluntness as i say it like it is. Pc is phony bs, used by politicians and the media.  muslims are what they are no need to sugar coat it. 

gandalf.the.shining.white
gandalf.the.shining.white

@RyanJFA @PoppaCharlie Good stuff. Simply know whats in the Koran. The underlying reason is a simple one. The whole world MUST come under the subjugation of EVERYONE to Allah, everyone impeding that MUST be stopped, in whatever way is appropriate. I know it sounds like I'm shouting - I'm not, I'm trying to make people see the clear and simple Truth behind the Koran. It is a religion of peace, and at the same time there is a hidden agenda of war -  but both are explicitly, and easily, seen in the verses of the Koran.

RyanJFA
RyanJFA

@PoppaCharlie @RyanJFA  

 In other words, no, they don't do what they do simply to instill terror. There's a reason underlying it all - whether or not you agree with it depends on your perspective. Obviously killing innocents doesn't make up for the deaths of others, which wounds al-Shabaab's legitimacy and recruiting potential. al-Qaeda and the Mujahideen were lovely bands of freedom fighters until they turned their assets away from fighting the now-gone Soviets and against the United States.