Sunday, September 22, 2013

Kenya: Update--Mall Attack in Nairobi Continues, Hostages Taken, 59 Killed Thus Far

According to Reuters, and as a follow-up to my previous postings, Islamist militants continue to be barricaded at the Nairobi Mall (Westgate) with hostages today (September 22), where at least 59 people have been killed in an attack by the Somalian-based al-Shabaab that opposes Kenya's participation in a peacekeeping mission in neighboring Somalia.

It should be noted that the mall, popular with expatriates and wealthy Kenyans, also has a number of Israeli-owned businesses.

Foreigners, including three Britons and two diplomats, one from Canada and another from Ghana, were killed in Saturday's attack at the upscale mall. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility. 

COMMENT: As reported earlier, when the small arms and grenade attacks occurred on Saturday (September 21), all Muslims were ordered to stand up, at which point they were told that they were free to go.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, facing his first major security challenge since a March election, said some of his close family members were among the dead, and vowed to defeat the militants.

The assault was the largest single attack in Kenya since al-Qaeda's East Africa cell bombed the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing more than 200 people. In 2002, the same militant cell attacked an Israeli-owned hotel on the coast and tried to shoot down an Israeli jet in a coordinated strike.

Seemingly, both Kenyan security services and a number of foreign embassies failed to interdict the well-planned and executed al-Shabaab operation. 

Roughly 175 people had been taken to hospital after an assault that could prove a costly setback for East Africa's biggest economy, which relies heavily on tourism revenues.

The dead in Saturday's assault included children, and the wounded ranged in age from 2 to 78. Many victims were at a cooking competition when assailants opened fire on them.  More than 1,000 people were evacuated.

An Israeli security source said that Israeli advisers were at the scene helping Kenya to work out how to end the siege.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who offered assistance to Kenya, said several US citizens had been hurt and the wife of a US diplomat working for the US Agency for International Development was killed.

Al-Shabaab, which is battling Kenyan and other African peacekeepers in Somalia, had repeatedly threatened attacks in Kenya if Nairobi did not pull its troops out of their country. The group has emphasized that there will be no negotiations stemming from the incident.

Those rescued said at least one of the assailants was a woman. One militant was shot and arrested in clashes following the initial siege, but died shortly afterwards at a hospital.

Although a Kenyan security firm normally searched pedestrians entering the Mall and checked the trunks of all vehicles entering the premises, security guards were unarmed. This, no doubt, will soon change, given the political and economic ramifications of this terrorist operation.

Kenya sent troops into Somalia in October 2011 to pursue militants it blamed for kidnapping tourists and attacking its security forces.

Al-Shabaab's last large-scale attack outside Somalia was a twin assault in nearby Uganda, targeting people watching the World Cup final on television in Kampala in 2010, killing 77 people.

All expatriates living in working in Kenya, in the aftermath of Saturday's attack, should be extremely cautious and maintain a very low profile and avoid situations where their movements within the country can be identified as "predictable."

Until the situation is contained, all expats should remain at home as much as practically possible.

If employed in Kenya, office premises throughout the country should be reviewed in an effort to reduce security vulnerabilities.

Needless to say, al-Shabaab does have the resources to mobilize additional attacks, which potentially could occur in coming days, even as the mall attack has yet to be contained.