On Friday, Sept. 20 Kenya experienced the beginnings of the deadliest terrorist attack on its soil since 1998. As unassuming Kenyans and American expatriates shopped casually at the high-end Westgate Mall, Al-Shabab militants opened fire on innocent civilians. Early reports from the Kenyan military and police force suggest that between 10 to 15 shooters, armed with grenades, machine guns, and AK-47s, entered Westgate Mall in Nairobi and opened fire on the patrons.
The attack, which began Friday and lasted through Monday, resulted in at least 175 injured, 61 dead and 30 held captive; the hostages were all free by Tuesday, Sept. 24.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was quick to respond to the violence, condemning it and noting that the tragedy was personal for him. Among the victims of the attack were President Kenyatta’s nephew and his nephew’s fiancee. Both died from injuries sustained during the attacks on Friday.
According to Fred Gateretse, an official with the African Union who witnessed the attack, eight gunmen opened fire at shoppers indiscriminately before proceeding to target police officers within the mall. Similar reports from other witnesses corroborated claims of chaotic violence within the upscale mall.
Al-Shabab, the Somali militia linked to Al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attacks via Twitter posts. One such tweet from Friday read, “There will be no negotiations at Westgate.” This chilling attitude reflects the growing tension between Kenyan Defense Forces’ (KDF) and Al-Shabab over the past two years. Hostilities between the two grew violent after the KDF sent troops into Somalia to combat the Al-Shabab militants.
Al-Shabab, which means “the Youth” in Arabic, began as a militant group of young people working with Islamist forces to gain clout throughout Somalia over five years ago. Al-Shabab became increasingly known as a valid threat, leading a series of guerilla attacks throughout the country.
As a result of Al-Shabab’s continued violence in Somalia, the African Union galvanized support and led an offensive to eradicate the militants’ presence. The offensive proved to be very successful. However, Al-Shabab responded in early 2012 by publicly pledging allegiance to Al-Qaida. This pledge led many to speculate that there will be further attacks in the future.
While the terrorist attacks at Westgate Mall are the most recent in this chain of ongoing violence, they represent a larger resurgence of audacious extremist efforts. The Westgate Mall attack took place in broad daylight in a busy, well-to-do area with over 1,000 people inside of the mall complex, according to BBC News. Former American senior counter-terrorism adviser Juan Zarate noted, “Al-Shabab remains resilient, able and willing to strike beyond Somalia’s borders to survive.”
With the possibility of further brutal attacks by extremist groups, one shred of certainty came from a senior official with the Interior Ministry as he stated, “our resolve to defend our country has never been higher. We will take the war to the criminals’ doorstep.”
This has also caused concern across in the U.S., according to CNN. It is believed that a number of people involved in the shooting were American nationals. This has led many to question whether American malls could just as easily become targets for terror attacks.
Information from BBC World News and CNN was used in this world news report.