Al Shabab, Somalia’s franchise of Al Qaeda, killed at least 68 people and wounded more than 175 when it seized control of the Westgate Premier Shopping Mall and took hostages in Nairobi this weekend.
The Westgate looks like a mall anywhere in the West. It could be in Los Angeles or Cincinnati or Poughkeepsie.
President Uhuru Kenyatta says one of his nephews and his fiancée are among the 68 dead. Canadian diplomat Annemarie Desloges was also killed.
The attackers went to the mall to murder non-Muslims, so Muslims were allowed to go free. Non-Muslims who tried to escape were ordered to name the mother of the Prophet Mohammad. Those who did not know the answer were killed.
Mohammad’s mother, by the way, was named Aminah bint Wahb.
Al Shabab was part of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union until it lost a war against the Somali and Ethiopian governments in 2006. The diehards broke off to form their own organization so they could resume battle. They’ve spent the last couple of years kidnapping and murdering aid workers because that’s how they roll, and they even managed to run parts of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu for a while until ANISOM—the African Union Mission in Somalia—dislodged them in 2011 with help from the Kenyans.
That’s what this attack in Nairobi was ostensibly for: revenge for Kenya’s defeat of Al Shabab in next-door Somalia.
The group posted several messages on Twitter while all this was happening. The account has been suspended, but someone saved the Tweets and posted them on Wikipedia.
“The attacks are just retribution for the lives of innocent Muslims shelled by Kenyan jets in Lower Jubba and in refugee camps”
“What Kenyans are witnessing at #Westgate is retributive justice for crimes committed by their military, albeit largely miniscule in nature”
“Since our last contact, the Mujahideen inside the mall confirmed to @HSM_Press that they killed over 100 Kenyan kuffar & battle is ongoing”
“For long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land, now it’s time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land”
“The attack at #WestgateMall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders”
“The Kenyan government, however, turned a deaf ear to our repeated warnings and continued to massacre innocent Muslims in Somalia”
“Kenyan government shall be held responsible for any loss of life as a result of such an imprudent move. The call is yours!”
“Kenyan forces who’ve just attempted a roof landing must know that they are jeopardising the lives of hostages.”
The army did manage to free most of the hostages. At least that’s what it claims. Fortunately the soldiers didn’t go in there and kill most of the captives like the Russian and Algerian armies did at various times during the last couple of years when similar groups captured innocents and held them at gunpoint. I’m hardly an expert on Kenya—I’ve never even been there—but I did not expect an Algerian-style ending.
One of my journalism colleagues traveled to South Sudan shortly after it declared independence from Khartoum. The place is an epic disaster, the worst he’s ever seen, and he ran into people from all over Africa who were there to help out. The Kenyans he met seemed to him “incredibly competent” compared with others from East Africa. Kenya is, after all, the regional power on that part of the continent.
International war correspondent and Washington Post African bureau chief Sudarsan Raghavan has seen all kinds of mayhem all over the world, but he never thought he’d encounter Syria- and Iraq-style horrors in Nairobi.
I never expected to see two bullet-riddled corpses at the steps by the entrance I frequently passed through to visit an ATM or enjoy a cappuccino. I never expected to see cars pocked with bullet holes, their doors wide open, along a street I drove on several times a week. I never expected to call my wife while I was in Nairobi to tell her I was safe, or feel my eyes burning from tear gas when police tried to disperse onlookers. Or to consider donning my flak jacket and helmet at a place where I often wore nothing more than shorts, a T-shirt and sandals.
This happens in Afghanistan or Iraq or Somalia — not near my house.
But it did happen near his house. My old street in West Beirut was likewise turned into a war zone shortly after I moved away. It can happen almost anywhere in the world these days, and that’s not going to change.