Imagine: It is a regular Saturday afternoon; September 21, 2013. Young Kenyans, many of them everyday commuters, and a few foreigners are out about carrying on routine activities at a popular, upscale mall. It is International Peace Day in Nairobi but the sun is shining in a cruel and anachronistic twist of irony.
There is a barbecue at the mall which your family is attending.
Children as young as five are running around, playing and making lots of noise. Suddenly the air is rife with screaming and fear. There is a commotion; you are not sure what has happened. Before you can even turn around you collapse to the ground, an early victim of the nearly 10-15 men carrying assault rifles, grenades, rocket launchers and wearing camouflage attire.
You notice a girl of 16 years gets shot through the eye but she manages to scamper away and hide. The first thing she does is call her father, who by now has heard stories and is frantic. She tries to calm him down, saying “I’m okay. I’m with friends. Call Mummy quickly and tell her I’m okay.” Her father hangs up and calls her mother. Her mother calls back. The phone is answered. The mother, over her child’s mobile line, hears yelling, deafening explosions, and the line goes dead. Her 16-year-old daughter has been cut down at close range.
This scenario, as reported in an article published in the Daily Mail, dated September 29 , 2013 is just one of many gruesome accounts of the tragic tale of a militant group seeking revenge for Kenyan involvement in a military operation which occurred two years earlier. Reports are that hostages were taken; detailing macabre scenes of body parts being hauled off balconies and walls dripping with blood. This was the stark reality for Kenyans for almost a week.
Over the days following the events of September 21st, the BBC reported that the Islamist group al-Shabab had taken responsibility for the attack. It lasted over three days and claimed 72 lives, including 61 civilians, six Kenyan soldiers, and five attackers. A September 30, article by the BBC entitled ‘Kenya’s Westgate siege: Number of missing reduced to 39’ reported that al-Shabab had rented a shop in the partly Israeli-owned mall prior to the attack. The article also spoke of the rescue mission undertaken by Kenyan security forces, apparently with the support of international forces, as they took over from civilian first-responders.
An article by the CNN Wire Staff of February 10, 2012, describes al-Shabab as a Somali-based Islamist group with ties to al-Qaeda. They are currently involved in a violent civil war in Somalia which has spanned over two decades. According to the USA’s National Counterterrorism Centre, the group’s members come from different local groups, whether a pawn or part of the ranking members, and are sometimes recruited by force. Unlike most of the organisation’s top leaders, the members on the ground are mainly concerned with nationalist and clan-related affairs in Somalia as opposed to the global jihad or ‘holy war’.
The National Counterterrorism Centre’s report on al-Shabab states that “on 29 February 2008, the US Government designated al-Shabab as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (as amended) and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity under section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224 (as amended). In 2012, the Rewards for Justice programme added several al-Shabab leaders to its site, offering large rewards for information leading to their capture”.
Like many similar groups, al-Shabab pledges war against America and other countries of the West as well as anyone who colludes with them. It is a most unfortunate and ghastly reality that this was just another, perhaps slightly more brazen, of attacks that occur daily in Africa and the Middle East.