- Posted September 26, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Kenyan Mall Attack: Al-Shabaab take the Global Stage
The attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya was an attack which shocked, not only the country, but the wider international community due to not only the brazenness of the attack but also the blatant indiscriminate killing of shoppers inside. The death toll currently stands at 61 civilians and 6 Kenyan security officials, with the numbers expected to increase when bodies are recovered from the rubble. The attackers of the mall were members of the Al-Shabaab terrorist group which is Somalia based and has in the past warned it would attack Kenyan targets if they did not pull their troops out of Somalian territory and stop supporting the government there. Al-Shabaab was designated as a terrorist organization in 2008 by the US Government. In February 2012, Al-Shabaab's leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, otherwise known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, appeared in a video with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda.
Al-Shabaab's strength is not known with estimates ranging from 5,000 to 9,000 fighters, many of whom are foreign jihadists. Many radical Islamists fled to Somalia to join up with Al-Shabaab over the past number of years however Syria is now the premiere destination for jihadi fighters at this moment in time so the flow into Somalia has decreased. With the significant losses and hardships inflicted upon al-Qaeda central in Afghanistan and Pakistan many fighters have sought refuge in Somalia and much of the leadership of al-Shabaab is believed to have trained and fought in Afghanistan. However the crackdown by Somalian, Kenyan and African Union forces in Somalia have inflicted significant territorial losses on the group and has forced it to begin to spread outside Somalia in order to survive.
Previously Al-Shabaab was more concerned with nationalistic goals and aims, and while this is still the case, their leader Godane views the global Jihad as a worthy and important cause for the group to become more involved in. The main tactic of the group has been suicide bombings and assassinations of Somalian government, Kenyan forces and aid group targets but this past week they launched one of the most ambitious and deadly attacks to date. The targeting of Westgate shopping mall, an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya frequented by wealthy Kenyans, Westerners, diplomats and government officials showed a level of planning and coordination that many did not believe the group possessed. The situation in Kenya is believed to be under control now and Kenyan government officials have stated that 5 terrorists were killed and 11 captured. The make-up of the attackers is believed to be wide-ranging with government sources stating that one attacker was Dutch, another British and there was believed to be Americans involved also which has brought to light that al-Shabaab may have been recruiting jihadists from within the United States.
Whatever is discovered about the attack and those who committed it in the days or weeks ahead one thing that is for sure is that it was a success for the al-Shabaab group. The attack was well planned, co-ordinated and executed with significant causalities and fear created, not to mention mass worldwide media coverage. People around the globe now know who this group are and what they are capable of. What is worrying is the belief by many security experts that al-Shabaab is working with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Boko Harem in the region to coordinate activities such as training and funding to be more effective forces within the region and beyond. If this is the case the capabilities and capacity of the group to carry out similar attacks may increase and the link with AQIM is of particular concern as it is seen now as the most effective and well-funded offshoot of al-Qaeda operating today.