The terrorist attack on Westgate Mall in a Northern suburb of Nairobi, Kenya is currently one of the world’s biggest news stories.
It is the focus of a presumed terrorist attack by 10 – 16 heavily armed men carrying automatic weapons, and belts containing additional ammunition and grenades; eye witness reports suggest that one of the terrorists may be female, but this has been refuted by a ‘military commander’, also known as ‘a terrorist’, Abu Omar claiming to represent the terrorists who are believed to be supporters of Al-Shabaab (meaning ‘ the youth’ or’the boys’ in Arabic) and largely based in Southern Somalia*. Al-Shabaab has previously indicated that they would target the Westgate Mall but, despite this, security at the complex was minimal.
Abu Omar also dismissed the possibility of foreign nationals being involved in the attack; it had been suggested that individuals from the United States, Canada and the United kingdom were involved, including ‘the White Widow’ Samantha Lewthwaite whose husband Gemaine Lindsay detonated a home-made improvised explosive device on a London Underground Tube Train of the 7th July 2005, killing himself and 25 other people, during the terrorist attacks in London, and claimed that the terrorists ‘had no interest in negotiating with the Kenyan authorities, that ‘we do not employ our sisters to carry out attacks’ and that ‘martyrdom’ was the ultimate intention of those involved.
The 29 year old Irish woman is, herself, a wanted terrorist suspect, having denied any involvement in her husbands activities she dropped off the radar and is believed to have made her way to Kenya and Somalia. A raid on her accommodation in Mombasa revealed similar chemicals to those used by her husband in his suicide attack; Lewthwaite is believed to be behind a series of grenade attacks on ‘kuffars’, or unbelievers, including one in which 26 people were killed whilst watching football in 2012. Given her organisational abilities it is unlikely that she would actually involve herself in a specific terrorist attack as her value to the organisation is much greater.
Eye witnesses report that the gunmen were speaking Arabic and Somali.
The Mall was attacked just before 1 pm on Saturday 21 September 2013 when an orthodontist, working on the 4th floor of the complex heard 3 – 4 loud explosions and automatic gunfire from the adjacent rooftop carpark. He reported seeing people fleeing from two gunmen who followed the unarmed civilians to an area of the car park where they were attempting to hide beneath cars or huddling against a low rise wall. The gunmen allowed a number of the civilians to stand up and leave the area but a second group who then attempted to leave were shot. The orthodontist claims to have seen 12 bodies in the car park, including one man who appears to have been killed by a grenade; a second unexploded grenade was seen nearby.
Once inside the complex the gunmen are reported to have moved from shop to shop, including targeting children in a toy shop and people sitting sitting in the cafes; caucasians appear to have been deliberately selected for execution and other shoppers and staff are reported to have been rounded up in groups and questioned regarding their names and religion; Muslims were then allowed to leave and non-Muslims, who were unable to answer questions based on the Koran, were executed. Some resourceful individuals managed to hide themselves in ventilation ducts, restrooms, store rooms, as well as persuading shop staff to close down doors and shutters to protect people hiding inside.
The attack has many similarities to the attack on the Taj Mahal Hotel and Oberoi Trident, Mumbai, in 2008.
At 1 pm, approximately 1000 customers and staff would have been in the shopping complex which is owned by an Israeli businessman, and caters for the up-market Nairobi population and ex-patriot communities.
The death toll is currently 62; including 4 British nationals as Kenya is a popular destination for holidays and also has a large population of ex-patriots. Violence is, however, rife and many ex-pats live in gated communities or houses with armed guards. The deaths include the nephew and fiancée of recently elected President Uhuru Kenyatta, as well as citizens of Peru, Canada, France and the United States; with 170 injured or wounded and a further 60, or so, unaccounted for; 2 militants have been killed and 4 Kenyan soldiers have been wounded. The injured have been taken to various hospitals in Nairobi, including the Aga Khan Hospital.
The Kenyan response has been surprisingly efficient with rapid deployment of Police, plain clothed Security Personnel, the Army and Kenyan Special Forces (SF), roads around the Mall were closed and fire engines and ambulances moved in. A Red Cross Centre was set up to assist relatives in locating those that have escaped the complex, been admitted to hospital or killed.
Gunfire and explosions have continued throughout Saturday and Sunday, with an increase in intensity last night which might suggest breaching charges being used to allow the security forces to move towards the supermarket area where the terrorists are believed to be holding 10 ‘hostages’. Smoke is currently billowing from the building but it is unclear as to the source of this; the intensity of gunfire increased at 13.15 GMT after at least two Armoured Personnel Carriers were moved into the vicinity.
Western ‘security advisers’ are already ‘in country’ as the stand-off continues. Armed caucasians have been reported in close proximity to the shopping complex so, it’s likely, that Israeli, British and American SF are involved and assisting the Kenyan Police, Army, SF and Security Services. To give the Kenyan Police, Army and Security and SF their due; they are quite a professional bunch having been involved with training from British Forces, the photographs appended to this post show a determined force, and all of their weapons look as if they are immaculately maintained.
BBC News at 17.00 GMT suggests that the security forces are now in control of all the floors in Westgate but, that, not all the terrorists or hostages have been accounted for.
Some witnesses have suggested that some of the attackers were dressed in hijabs, but it was unclear whether they were men or women; and one male witness reported seeing a man who spoke Arabic change his clothes before leaving the shopping centre amongst the people being rescued by the security forces.
Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM) (Arabic: حركة الشباب المجاهدين; Ḥarakat ash-Shabāb al-Mujāhidīn, Somali: Xarakada Mujaahidiinta Alshabaab, “Mujahideen Youth Movement” or “Movement of Striving Youth”), more commonly known as al-Shabaab (Arabic: الشباب, “The Youth” or “The Boys”) Source: Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Shabaab_(militant_group)]
*Al-Shabaab is a conglomerate of several thousand fighters , including several hundred foreigners from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The group is classed as an extremist Islamic group that imposed strict Shariah law, including the stoning to death of women accused of adultery and amputating the hands of accused thieves. The group arose from the weak Islamic Courts government that was created in Somalia in 2006, in an attempt to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state, and adopted the more extreme Saudi Arabian Wahabi form of Islam. The concern from western governments is that trained terrorists might return to their parent countries and carry on their activities there; Sir Jonathan Evans KCB, Director-General of the British Security Service (MI5), the United Kingdom’s domestic security and counter-intelligence service from 21 April 2007 until 22 April 2013. He had previously worked in G Branch, the section of MI5 that deals with international terrorism, and is an expert on al-Qaeda. Sir Jonathan warned, 3 years ago, that a group of approximately 50 UK nationals and Somalis had left the UK and travelled to Somalia where he recognised the potential future threat to the UK, should they then return, having been indoctrinated and trained in terrorist activities; at least two of that group have been killed by drone strikes.
This morning, it was reported that Jendayi Frazer, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, heading the Bureau of African Affairs and now working as a Distinguished Service Professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College and Department of Social and Decision Sciences ‘Al-Shabaab is global in orientation’ and ‘we must stay focussed on what our interests are’ and, guess what, from The Daily Telegraph online ‘Somalia’s first elected government in more than two decades won power a year ago and, together with the African Union force, has the opportunity to create “a window of opportunity to fundamentally change Somalia’s trajectory,” according to the US State Department. Business is growing and even foreign oil companies are negotiating concessions at the most hopeful moment in decades for that failed state’.
Al-Shabaab held Mogadishu, the Somali capital, from 2006 – 2011, together with large central areas and the South of the country before a United Nations force using troops from the African Union; The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) largely Kenya, Uganda and Sierra Leone, removed them from the capital and the port of Kismayo, thus depriving them of significant financial income from the imposition of ‘taxes’ on the movement of goods and people through the country.
Al-Shabaab announced an oath of allegiance a ‘biyah’ with al-Qaeda, in February 2012, with it’s leader Mukhtar Abu Zubair pledging support. The allegiance would allow the two groups to share tactics, ideology and hatred of the West but not, necessarily, terrorist attacks
The United states believes that those responsible for the bombing of it’s Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in 1996, sought refuge in Somalia and Al-Qaida is believed to have been responsible for a 2002 attack on an Israeli owned Mombasa resort and a threatened surface-to-air rocket attack on an aircraft carrying Israelis into or out of Nairobi International airport.
Al-Shabaab is also believed to be responsible for a series of regular i.e. nightly attacks in Kismayo against the UN African Union Forces, grenade attacks at bus stops in Kenya and the killing of 70 people watching a World Cup football match in a restaurant in Kampala, Uganda in 2012.
Any Arabists; please feel free to revise my spelling.
UPDATE 03.50 GMT
Note in the photographs below that I have incorrectly labelled the Mall as Westfield rather than Westgate; 22 hours working on this saps your brain.
Insurgent deaths are up to 3, and as many as 12 nationalities are now thought to be on the list of those who lost their lives.
Reporting suggests that there was an external nearby control cell providing information to the terrorist group inside the Mall. This might explain how the authorities are presently unable to account for all the terrorists, especially as Nairobi has a fairly massive Somali population in which they will be able to blend in for the immediate future.
President Kenyatta has pledged to “punish the masterminds swiftly and indeed very painfully”; Kenya retains the death sentence which is applied using boiled stretched hemp rope.
Interesting, also, that ABC airs a short piece this evening about how US Malls are re-thinking their security strategies; next stage will be the full TSA treatment to get in; no you can’t take in your own water, baby food, perfume etc.
Personally, I think there would be a far greater reluctance for somebody or a group to ‘attempt this at home’ if they have no idea of how many licensed CCW owners were in the vicinity; not least because most of these people will be responsible, regular and accurate shooters.
Video below was filmed at the mall during the attack and captured the sound of gunfire:
Gallery of a bunch of photos: