Thursday, September 26, 2013

Kenya: Update--Al-Shabaab Attack on Nairobi Mall Claims 72 Lives, British Extremist Being Sought

According to Reuters, and as a follow-up to my numerous postings, an INTERPOL alert has been disseminated to all member nations requesting that they take into custody British national Samantha Lewthwaite, 29.

Lewthwaite is the widow of one of the suicide bombers who attacked London's transport system in July 2005 and is believed to have evaded arrest two years ago in the port city of Mombasa, where she is wanted in connection with a plot to bomb hotels and restaurants.

The alert was issued as Kenyan police broadened the investigation into the weekend raid by the al-Qaeda-linked Somali al-Shabaab group, the worst such assault since the US Embassy was bombed in Nairobi by al-Qaeda in 1998.

Police in Mombasa, a tourist hub, said they were also tracking four suspected militants, following the siege of the swanky Westgate mall in Nairobi which militants stormed on Saturday (September 21) armed with assault rifles and grenades.

The mall attack has demonstrated the reach of al-Shabaab beyond Somalia, where Kenyan troops have joined other African security forces, driving the group out of major urban areas, but still enabling extremists to control the countryside.

COMMENT: Al-Shabaab stormed the mall to demand Kenya to pull its troops out of Somalia, which President Uhuru Kenyatta has refused to do.

Lewthwaite has reportedly been described in British papers as the "White Widow," as a result of rumors that one of the assailants in Saturday's attack included a white woman, although Kenyan sources refute such a claim.

Part of the Westgate mall collapsed in the siege, burying some bodies and hindering investigations, although forensic experts have begun crime scene investigation as the military searches for explosives.

Mombasa police said they were tracking a network of suspects linked to al-Shabaab in the coastal region, home to many of Kenya's Muslims, who make up about 10% of the nation's 40 million people. Most Kenyans are Christians.

In 1998, al-Qaeda bombed the US Embassy in Nairobi, an attack that killed more than 200 people. Since then, Kenya has faced other smaller attacks, many claimed by al-Shabaab, particularly along the border region next to Somalia.

Considering that the mall attack is still under investigation, expatriates of all nationalities who live in Kenya should:

1. Register with their embassy or consulate if they have already not done so;

2. Acknowledge that other attacks on the expat community could occur in the near-term;

3. All expats, including family members, should  avoid situations where predictable patterns of movement can be identified by extremists as a "choke point";

4. Review the physical and procedural security of their home, office and school in the hope of reducing security vulnerabilities that might facilitate or ease an attack;

5. Ensure that they can monitor time-sensitive alerts released by their embassy or consulate via mobile phone; and

6. Review organizational or family emergency evacuation plans in the event embassies and consulates decide to evacuate non-essential personnel.