Militants armed with machine guns, rifles, and hand grenades stormed a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, this week, slaughtering more than 60 shoppers over a four-day siege and resurrecting the specter of Islamic terrorism in Africa. Between 15 and 20 attackers dressed in black and wearing scarves and turbans entered the upscale Westgate Shopping Mall, which is popular with affluent Kenyans and foreign visitors. The terrorists fanned out through the building, tossing grenades into stores and singling out non--Muslims to shoot at point-blank range, before taking a number of hostages and barricading themselves in a mall supermarket. The -Kenyan army landed helicopters on the building’s roof and finally retook the mall after four days of firefights and explosions. With officials still recovering bodies from under three collapsed floors, at least 61 shoppers were known to be dead, including 18 Western victims, and more than 175 injured. “Bodies of children were everywhere,” said one survivor, Kamal Kaur. “Children. Innocent little children. Holding onto me asking where their mummies were.”
The al-Shabab group, a Somalia-based partner of al Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the killings were revenge for Kenya’s help in toppling Somalia’s Islamist regime in 2011. Non-Muslims, the group said, were “legitimate targets.’’ Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said 11 suspected terrorists were in custody, and that “two or three” U.S. citizens may have been among the attackers; unconfirmed reports said they were teenagers of Somali or Arab origin who had lived in -Minnesota.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
What the editorials said
This attack represents a “cold new reality” in the global war on terror, said The Dallas Morning News. As the U.S. withdraws from its role as “the world’s policeman,” our allies must keep up the fight against Islamic extremism—but as Kenya just learned, doing so can “entail a heavy price.” The use of AK-47s to massacre civilians in a mall suggests a worrisome new terrorist strategy, said Newsday. “We should consider ourselves warned.”
Kenya “remains united in grief and in courage,” said The Standard (Kenya). Even as we mourn our dead, we are committed to keeping our armed forces in Somalia until that ravaged nation is free of the terrorist threat. Our allies in the U.S., the U.K., and the Middle East must now investigate those in the “Somali diaspora” who continue to fund and support al-Shabab from afar, so that together we can break its back for good.
What the columnists said
“Who are these terrorists?” asked Katherine Zimmerman in The Wall Street Journal. They’re not merely “a local, Somali threat.” As many as 50 U.S. citizens have joined al-Shabab, as it switches its focus from regional warfare to a “more idealized global fight” with other Islamic terror groups such as al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Al-Shabab even released a video last month praising three “Minnesota Martyrs,” Americans from Somali communities in the St. Paul region who died waging jihad in Somalia. President Obama may naïvely insist al Qaida is on the run, but its junior partners have “the means for a major attack” on the U.S.
That’s doubtful, said Clinton Watts in ForeignPolicy.com. Al--Shabab’s decision to merge with al Qaida in 2011 split it into rival clans, and several of its leaders have defected. This attack may be a “last, desperate attempt” of a dying organization “to generate popular support, resources, and personnel.” But that weakness makes it more dangerous, said Joshua Keating in Slate.com. A “spent force” in Somalia, al-Shabab is now seeking to become a truly “transnational terror group.”
We’re just as vulnerable as Kenya was, said Christopher Dickey in TheDailyBeast.com. Al Qaida’s affiliates no longer need to plan “massive, complicated operations” like 9/11, when they can terrorize the world with small-scale outrages like Nairobi. It’s too easy to imagine those Minnesotan jihadists bringing their “guerrilla and terrorist skills” back home, and attacking the Mall of America or other public gathering places. So as we reconsider our anti-terrorist intelligence activities, Americans should remember that while our “war on terror” appears to be over, “the terrorists’ global war on us is not.”
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.