Serhat Orakçı - World Bulletin
Kenya, which gained its independence from the British in 1963, is home to about 45 million people. While 83% of Kenyans are Christians, 12% are Muslims. This multi-ethnic society is also home to many Somali migrants. The world’s largest refugee camp is found along the Kenya-Somalia border at Dadaab, which caters for 500,000 Somalis. These refugees, who fled from the Somali civil war in 1991, have been living there for more than twenty years.
It appears as though al-Shabab has been adopting a more aggressive stance as of late. The latest attack on a shopping mall in Kenya is an indication of this. Also, the recent suicide bombing on the Turkish embassy during the month of Ramadan is said to have been carried out by al-Shabab, further confirming this suspicion. An attack against the Somali leader’s convoy, a double explosion in Mogadishu, the internal execution of the militant nicknamed ‘Al-Amriki’ and the latest attack on a shopping mall in Kenya suggests their revival.
However, it appears as though they have abandoned their former image as global jihadists and have adopted a more national struggle. The bombing of the Turkish embassy, the execution of al-Amriki and their explanations for the attack on Kenya certainly provokes this thought.
Al-Shabab has been making their voices heard even more after the dissolution of the Union of Islamic Courts. They had previously conducted operations in Uganda and Burundi. They were also behind a few small explosions in Kenya before, but the attack on the shopping mall is the first in Kenya to be planned and coordinated to this scale. Despite retreating from Mogadishu in 2011, and then from Kismayo in 2012, the influence al-Shabab has over Somalia has not waned. It has already been reported that ten thousand of their fighters have pledged their allegiance to al-Qaeda.
The bloody events in Nairobi which started on Saturday and carried on for four days is no doubt Kenya’s 9/11. 62 civilians, 6 police officers and 5 al-Shabab fighters lost their lives in the fighting. The number of injured is over 200. 18 of the casualties were foreigners. Among them are citizens of South Africa, the UK, Canada, Holland, Turkey and China. Most of them were either there for employment reasons or as charity workers.
The target of al-Shabab was the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. The mall belongs to a Jewish businessman. It is also a popular location for foreign tourists. One may wonder why so many tourists visit this African country. The reason is because in a place where there is not much else to do, shopping malls are a key point for business and other social activities. Also, the owners and associates of such malls are usually foreign investors.
Ten to fifteen armed militants managed to siege the mall in the middle of Nairobi for four days. The fact that they were able to operate in such a busy area and occupy the mall so quickly indicates that it was a well planned attack. It is even rumored that they managed to gain information about the mall via an agent who had rented one of the stores in the building. It is still not clear if British and American citizens were among the armed group.
Despite similar, if not deadlier attacks in countries like Nigeria and Sudan, the attack on the mall in Kenya attracted a much wider audience in the media. This is no doubt due to the number of foreigners caught up in the violence. Just a few days earlier, 142 people were killed in an attack in Nigeria. 40 Muslims were also killed in the Central African Republic after attending morning prayers, but this event did not get any media attention. However, the attack in Kenya was given more importance by the world, and it is most likely for this reason that al-Shabab targeted it. Al-Shabab seized the opportunity to spread their message far and fast.
Upon occupying the mall, the Kenyan police, army, journalists and even an Israeli micro-force rushed to the scene. Smoke was bellowing from the building as helicopters circled it. A hostage situation unfolded over the four days, with conflicting reports surrounding the incidents.
The media played an important role during the events, with both the Kenyan authorities and al-Shabab using Twitter to portray their messages to the public. Appeals for blood donations for the injured were also made via RT. The media was used to the advantage of all sides, and the Kenyan people became one. Money was also raised via this route, with some Muslim charities leading the way.
The fact that al-Shabab were able to conduct an attack so close to the United Nations showed their competence in attacking any target they want. Throughout all of Africa, Kenya has one of the highest incomes from the tourism sector. This attack will certainly have a damaging effect on the Kenyan tourism industry, and may put the Kenyan government in a difficult position.
The death of 18 mainly western foreign civilians also makes this operation an attack on the west in Africa. This also allowed al-Shabab to pitch its demands to the west, which is the withdrawal of the 4,000 Kenyan troops inside Somalia. They also called on the Kenyan people to put pressure on their government to do this, and threatened more attacks if they didn’t. Similarly to the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11, al-Shabab also chose to use a symbol of capitalism to make their message clear.
The Somali people are tired of money intended for their nation winding up in the hands of Kenya, and this has made Somalia home to many non-governmental organizations. NGO’s who cannot go to Somalia prefer to go to Kenya because they see Kenya as a safer place. Al-Shabab, on the other hand, has destroyed this image.
However, despite managing to occupy the shopping mall so quickly, the loss of civilian life has taken some steam away from the propaganda of al-Shabab. Even though al-Shabab said that they would do all they could to protect women and children on their Twitter page, this did not stop women, children and innocents from being caught up in the violence. The loss of civilian life has caused harm to the Somali cause as well as to Muslims in Kenya, Africa and the rest of the world.Last Mod: 25 Eylül 2013, 17:53