On Saturday, a group of 10 to 15 terrorists from al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab attacked Westgate Mall, a popular shopping location for Westerners and wealthy Kenyans, in Nairobi, Kenya. As of early this afternoon, 62 people are reported dead and approximately 175 are injured, while the Kenyan Red Cross has reported 49 people missing.
Two of the terrorists took some people hostage in the mall, but the Kenya Defense Forces are reporting that both have been killed. This morning, four thunderous explosions went off in the mall, but Kenyan soldiers have since secured most of the buildings, killing three while arresting 10 suspects.
Al-Shabab used a Twitter account to relay that three Americans, a Canadian, a Swede, two Britons, and a Finn were all a part of the multinational terrorist force.
Five Americans were injured in the attacks, but none were killed.
President Obama called Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta on Sunday, expressing condolences and continued support. American and Israeli military units have supported and advised the Kenya Defense Forces over the past couple of years, as the United States designated al-Shabab as a terrorist group in 2008.
President Obama himself has secretly authorized two commando raids and at least two drone strikes within Somalia, but publicly has adopted an advisory role. This attack, the deadliest since the embassy bombings of 1998, may trigger a greater American presence in the region.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC’s “This Week”: “We’re talking about very significant terrorist groups here which are showing a capacity to attack outside of their borders and actually recruit people from here in the United States.”
King is referring to the three radicalized Americans, two of whom reportedly came from the St. Paul area of Minnesota where a huge Somali-American population resides. Jamie Dettmer reports at the Daily Beast that the Twin Cities area has become a jihadi recruitment area, especially within its mosques.
Al-Shabab intended the attack as retaliation against Kenya’s involvement in Somalia. Unfortunately, it demonstrates a new strength from the al-Qaeda-linked group, as it has been relatively isolated to the southern part of Somalia due to American and Western constraints.
Since the attack focused on a shopping area known for its Israeli and Western connections, this may prelude a transition to American military involvement in Africa. While al-Shabab hasn’t targeted American forces yet, choosing instead to target the Somali government, five wounded Americans could justify a future expansion, either secret or not.