Kenya’s capital of Nairobi was again rocked by the specter of terrorism this week as a mall complex attack claimed the lives of 21. This marks another occurrence in a series of attempts by al-Shabab, who claimed responsibility for the assault, to destabilize the region. Gunshots and a series of explosions marked the beginning of the attack at 3:00 p.m. last Tuesday. “14 Riverside,” the hotel-office-shopping complex housing the DusitD2 Hotel, became a killzone as five insurgents with automatic weaponry and bombs stormed what was, moments before, a completely serene and normal workday.
Before security was able to respond, a suicidebomber detonated his vest inside the grounds, and chaos ensued. Plainclothesman police officers responded quickly, but the scope of the attack demanded more than a brief engagement. Counter-terrorist forces worked to diffuse the situation over the course of what would become a 19-hour siege, killing all five terrorists but leaving 21 others dead. Among the dead were 15 Kenyans, four citizens from other African nations, an American and a British national. Scenes of the aftermath are excruciating to examine, visceral scenes of violence contrasted against a picturesque locale. By late last Wednesday, eleven individuals were in custody in connection with the attack, including a female accomplice and a possible financier.
Kenyan security was, as hinted at before, wellprepared for the attack. Kenya has struggled with terrorism for several decades. In the last ten years, these forces have had a specific name: al-Shabab or “The Youth.” The organization is based in Somalia and tied to al-Qaeda and its intricate web of associated groups. As reported by Aljazeera, alShabab believes themselves to be Islamic in nature, promoting their own version of Islamic law through violence. In claiming responsibility, the group denounced U.S. President Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the true capital of Israel. However, this betrays several more prominent motives behind Tuesday’s assault: increased airstrikes against the group, the involvement of Kenyan forces in the joint counterterrorism effort in Somalia, an al-Qaeda call to action and the anniversary of a 2013 Kenyan military base attack.
In fact, according to the Washington Post, Tuesday’s attack mirrored another 2013 assault at Kenya’s Westgate Mall, which killed 67. The president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, denounced the attack and asserted that those responsible would be held accountable. Indeed, the country was put into high alert. While the Kenyan government has worked very hard to rout out terrorism, some believe the crackdown to be too severe and may in fact further raise tensions by alienating Somalians in Kenya. U.S. strategists have mixed views about the effectiveness of counterterrorism efforts against al-Shabab, noting that the group’s persistent recruitment and international support props it up against individual crackdowns and drone strikes. Kenya is now struggling with the socio-political and economic repercussions of the attack, as an attack on a mall frightens both Kenyan citizens and foreign investors in Kenyan enterprise.