The saga at the Westgate Mall in Kenya continues for another excruciating day. At least 62 people are known to have been killed by the terrorists in the attack.
Gunfire echoed around a Nairobi mall early Tuesday as security forces continued to hunt al Qaeda-linked attackers - believed by Kenya to include “two or three Americans” and a British woman - behind a siege that killed 62 people.
A large explosion was heard from the shopping complex on the fourth day since heavily-armed militants from the Somalia-based al-Shabaab stormed the busy Westgate complex, terrorizing shoppers.
In an unverified Twitter post on Tuesday, the terror group said its members were “still holding their ground” inside, and that some hostages were “still alive.”
The BBC reports that there are mixed reports as to whether the attack is now over, or whether security forces are continuing to carry out operations to clear the mall of remaining terrorists.
Fires at different parts of the mall caused significant damage. One part of a parking garage collapsed from fire damage.
The identities of those terrorists involved is beginning to be known, and again there have been conflicting reports as to whether the attack was carried out by all men, or whether women were involved as well. The woman is believed to be Briton Samantha Lewthwaite, who was the wife of a terrorist involved in the 7/7 terror attacks in London. She’s believed to be a facilitator for terror groups in East Africa.
While Twitter had killed their earlier account, the terror group established another one to tout their ongoing terror campaign in Nairobi.
Kenya’s foreign minister relayed that American and British citizens of Somali or Arab origin are among the perpetrators. That would seem to jibe with the American assessment that some Americans have joined with the terror group. That some Americans would join with the terror group is not without precedent. After all, al Qaeda’s ranks include (or included) Anwar al Awlaki and Adam Gadahn. Jose Padilla is another American who carried out plans to attack the US and its interests while Awlaki exhorted others to carry out attacks against the US and its interests worldwide.
Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was British citizen who later went to Pakistan and Afghanistan to join up with the terror groups there.
The terror attack appears to have been a coordinated effort with two or three teams of terrorists and are quite similar to the attacks by Lashkar-e-Taiba’s attack in Mumbai in 2008 that killed more than 200 people and focused on non-Muslims. Some of the terrorists may have been wearing suicide vests. Muslims were separated from non-Muslims who were then executed. Bill Roggio indicates that families of diplomatic personnel are among the hostages.
It is possible that the terrorists at the mall are in contact with outside handlers, again following tactics seen at the Mumbai attacks.
The terror group claims that this attack is in retaliation for Kenya’s military operation against al Shabaab forces in Somalia.
It shouldn’t be surprising to see that al Shabaab is picking up tactics used with success by terror groups elsewhere. What it doesn’t say is whether this is a last-gasp attack indicating that the group needed to carry out a major attack or else fall by the wayside through a lack of support, or whether it signals a new resurgence in the group’s capabilities in the past couple of years.
The attack does once again show the importance of dealing with failed states to prevent them from becoming a safe haven and a terrorist incubator. Somalia continues to be a problem for East Africa and beyond, and some of the deadliest terror attacks have been carried out by terrorists who operated out of the failed state. This includes the US Embassy bombings in 1998.