Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Kenya: Update--Mall Siege Over in Nairobi, All Hostages Released, Post-Incident Report Pending

According to The Guardian, Kenyan officials have declared that all hostages being held by al-Shabaab militants at the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi are now free.

A siege at Kenya's largest shopping mall in Nairobi launched by Islamic radicals of al-Shabaab killed 62+ shoppers and more than 170 were injured seems to have ended with the Kenyan military seizing control of the mall.

All six remaining al-Shabaab militants were killed in order for the Kenyan military to resume control over the mall, although a number of the extremists were taken alive, which may provide valuable intelligence to authorities.

COMMENT: The Somalia-based al-Shabaab group claimed responsibility for the attack, although its claim is still being investigated by Kenyan authorities. 

Foreign minister Amina Mohamed said on Monday (September 23) that two or three Americans and one female British national were reportedly among the assailants. This statement has yet to be confirmed.

The claim sparked fierce speculation as to whether Samantha Lewthwaite, the British woman suspected of masterminding a terrorist cell in Kenya's second largest city of Mombasa, may have taken part in the incident.

Lewthwaite, 29, is the widow of Jermaine Lindsay, who blew up an underground train at King's Cross in July 2005 killing 26 people. She is believed to be in East Africa after having escaped a police raid on a property in Mombasa. Notwithstanding, official sources contend that all of the al-Shabaab attackers on the mall were men.

As international interest in the Westgate attack mounts, with the death toll of 62, including British, Canadian, American, Chinese, French, Ghanaian, Indian, Dutch, Peruvian, South African and South Korean victims, expected to rise, Kenyan authorities are under intense pressure over their handling of the investigation.

I would agree that in the past, Kenyan authorities have seriously bungled a number of terrorist operations they have investigated, including ransom kidnappings, and despite extensive anti-terrorism training from a number of foreign governments, Kenyan skill levels have not dramatically improved.

In the days ahead, I will release a report on the lessons-learned from this incident.