What Happened in the Westgate Mall in Kenya and Why?

This past Saturday, September 21, an estimated 6 to 16 attackers — suspected to be Islamist militants — stormed the upscale Westgate mall in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. 23 people were reported dead by the end of the day as the news filled with images of security guards wheeling out wounded children — 50 preschoolers had been attending a cooking competition on the second floor of the mall.

Security forces soon entered the mall in a standoff that has continued through Monday. The gunmen, who were said to be targeting non-Muslims, holed up in one part of the mall with hostages. New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks accompanied police for a couple of hours and described seeing dead bodies even while “… everywhere you went, there were more people who just appeared out of the woodwork.” A military helicopter landed on the mall’s roof on Sunday night.

By Monday, 62 people, including many Kenyansacclaimed Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor who had been attending a nearby literary festival, the nephew of President Uhuru Kenyatta and the nephew’s fiancée and a Canadian diplomat have been confirmed dead. More than 170 have been injured and, while security forces say they are completing their “final sweep” of the mall, the death toll could well rise. Survivors are recounting terrifying stories of hiding and playing dead as the gunmen stalked the mall .

Why was a mall in Nairobi in Kenya’s southwest attacked by militants, reportedly from Somalia’s “ferocious armed political movement,” the al-Qaida-inspired al-Shabab?

Background to the Attack: Kenya Sends Armed Forces into Somalia in 2011

The roots of the attack lie in Kenya’s decision to send its troops to its neighbor, Somalia, in October 2011, Afua Hirsch writes in the Guardian. The unrest in Somalia goes back to 1991, when the country’s president, President Mohamed Siad Barre, was overthrown. Ever since, Somalia has lacked a central government and been divided between transitional federal institutions and the Islamic Courts Union, under which al-Shabab formed as an armed militia.

Kenya sent in armed forces out of fear for its key tourism and shipping industries. The Westgate attack was not the first that the country has experienced since it sent troops into Somalia, Hirsch points out.

Ethiopia, the African Union and, in July, the United Nations have also sent in troops to Somalia, none of whom have been able to contain Somalia’s unrest within its own borders.

United States and Kenya in Joint Counterterrorism Efforts

The United States has also come under blame for “exacerbating the situation by picking sides in the conflict and pitting factions against one another,” writes Hirsch.

Another reason behind al-Shabab targeting Kenya is due to its working closely in counterterrorism efforts with the United States to pursue Al-Qaida, as well as to fight piracy. The C.I.A. maintains a station in Nairobi that is the largest in Africa, notes the New York Times.

American officials are now working with the Kenyan government to determine if those responsible for the attacks were based in Kenya or came from Somalia. The attackers claimed on Sunday that one had ties to the United States.

Al-Shabab Becoming Radicalized, More Likely to Carry Out “Spectacular Attacks Abroad”?

The Westgate attack is also not the first that al-Shabab has carried out beyond Somalia’s borders. In 2011, al-Shabab was behind a bombing attack against soccer fans in Kampala, Uganda, that killed 76. After these and other attacks related to Kenya’s military presence in Somalia, the Westgate Mall had actually been singled out as a possible for an attack, says Matthew Bryden, the former head of the United Nations Monitoring Group, to the New York Times.

The Westgate attack shows that al-Shabab has changed tactics, from “coordinated suicide bombings with a high risk of being foiled toward more direct operations” that are outside Somalia and that kill many and also “sow fear, and undermine support in Nairobi for the Kenyan mission in Somalia,” says Bryden. Vanda Felbab-Brown, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, also argues that the latest attack is a sign that al-Shabab is fracturing and has become “more radicalized,” seeking to carry out “spectacular attacks abroad” that generate headlines with its name in them.

What Next?

At present, Kenya’s government, hardly wanting to give the impression that it cannot deal with the crisis, is taking the lead, with other nations (including Israel; the owners of the mall are Israeli) playing an advisory role, says the BBC. The attacks raise the issue of whether Kenya remain in Somalia and, too, of whether other countries should step up their intervention.

One of those countries is certainly the United States. President Barack Obama has said to Kenyans that “we stand with them against this terrible outrage that’s occurred, we will provide them with whatever law enforcement help that is necessary.”

As Simon Tisdall writes in the Guardian, pressure will be on the United States and other Western powers to step up their intervention in the Horn of Africa — though the result could be just what the leader of al-Shabab, Ahmed Abdi Godane (aka Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr), ”undoubtedly“  would welcome, a “broader, regional escalation” of the long unresolved conflict in Somalia.


Photo Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

I "strolled" a bit through the comments after my posting and other than agreeing with BMutiny I'd recommend people would do some background search for themselves.

Oher than "Islam" ... there is a bit more to the story in Nairobi as well as to the whole African continent and Middle East "uprising". Go as a starter to http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175743/ and read what Nick Turse has to say about AFRICOM and its implications and goals. Sorry to disappoint a few here - it's not about Islam bashing but about a frightening reality which no one wants to see ... or is allowed to see.

TomDispatch has a ton of information which is worth the time reading AND digesting. Check also CENTCOM and its goals.

How does that saying go? "Minds are like parachutes, they only function when open" ... can't remember who said that but it seems there's some truth to it ...

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago


The article also references to the main "problem" ... the Juba-Lamu oil pipeline ... 6.6 Bio Barrels Oil need to be shipped after all! And so on and so forth.

Honi soit qui mal y pense!

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

Some interesting reading/analyses on the matter:

"Was it a Psyop? Nairobi Mall Deceit Abets Israeli-Western Pipeline Wars to Oust Asian Rivals"
By Yoichi Shimatsu
Global Research, October 01, 2013


The gratuitous violence and spectacular overkill by a mysterious gang of supposed “terrorists” does nothing to further the aims of either Somali nationalism or sharia law, as espoused by the original Al-Shabaab movement, which seeks the withdrawal of Kenya forces from Somalia .

As the events at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi unfolded, it became clear that the bloody spectacle was staged by a shadowy entity, which the Kenya foreign minister described as “Al Qaeda”. Her statement was based on the presence of other foreign assailants, including passport holders of the U.S. and Britain , under the command of a Western woman believed to be the so-called “White Widow”.

The obvious outcome of this bloody spectacle is not Kenyan military withdrawal from Somalia as desired by Al Shabaab rebels, but quite the opposite effect of hardening support for intervention by a majority of Kenyans who were previously opposed to cross-border troop stationing. It took a televised massacre to overturn the East African public’s aversion to military cooperation with former colonial masters and the Israelis."


Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld4 years ago

So Basically Kenya was targeted because they chose stability and security over anarchy and chaos. Looks like the U.S. has backed the right horse there.

Deborah W.
Deborah W4 years ago

No mercy, then or now. What you see will soon be in your own backyard, ready?

Signs of this truth are already sporadically appearing worldwide, not just in those far away places where things were always chaotic, but in our modern civilized places of culture and expertise.

Let's hear it for progress ... we've learned nothing.

My Shariah M.
.4 years ago

The WIDESPREAD, MURDEROUS VIOLENCE caused by Somalia’s ‘Al-Shabaab’ has forced France's 'Doctors Without Borders' to PULL OUT of that TORTURED LAND after 22 YEARS! See: 15AUG13. Jenny Lei Ravelo (for Devex). TheAfricaDailycom. "Why MSF Pulled Out of Somalia".

Dominic C.
Dominic C4 years ago

Ros G, do not for a second think that Indonesia is clean and without problems... Probably you are not familiar with the many massacres in the late 20th C...
In Wikipedia it claimed that the principal causes of the conflict are political and economic... Nonsense, if you talk to any Malukans, they'd tell you that Javanese Muslims have no right in take away their jobs, belittle their livelihood and tried to convert them to be Muslims. Malukans are Christians.
Indonesia is like a hot stove waiting for it to blow on religious tolerance... The Gov't is putting a lid on it but now and then massacres, ethnic and religious issues just blow out in the blue. During Soekarno times he rules with an iron hand as such nobody will discuss or bring out such issues otherwise these people would be executed
Today, democracy has trumped out these grievances and yeah the Govt hands are real full everyday and Indonesia is working very closely with West to stump out extremism and terrorism.
Don't just read the papers...travel and understand widely... judge and be wise and judge be not to discriminate. Indonesia is a large place... Bali and Jakarta are where tourists go but Aceh, Ambon, Balikpapan, Medan, Jogjarkata, Makassar, etc are the places where Indonesians live.

Dominic C.
Dominic C4 years ago

Ros G., Thanks for your comments. And yes, I was a student at MSU and once a B1G 10 and Spartan, it lives in you. You have to be one of the Conference Universities in the US and then you know the hype.

Many Aussies do not have any idea at all what's going on in Malaysia. Before and after independence the Brits have colluded with the Nationalists who are the majority race to have their say... And when these Nationalists are not able to engage minorities to their whims they used their Islam to coerce, influence and affirm their obligations. When Lee Kuan Yew in the 1960s saw these duplicitous and passive treachery and as such he pulled Singapore from the Federation. When Dr. Mahathir Mohd became Prime Minister in the 80s, he further convoluted and conspire with Islamists to sing the tunes of Islamism. Many people did not know Anwar Ibrahim was a radicalists and Conservative Islamist but after when he was dethroned from power, its the minorities and the opposition who came to his aid. Anwar today know who are the true people and who are fakes. He knew today his Muslim brethen are not going to hoot with him any longer but for him, he know who are his trusted companions.

My M.
.4 years ago

Miss Chew IGNORES the GENUINE reasons for this attack (again)! Before Europeans CIVILIZED NE Africa in the 1800s, Islam held sway & practiced WHOLESALE & wanton paedophilia, rape, slavery & ecological/economic destruction on Muslim & non-Muslim tribes ALIKE, which REDUCED this part of the continent to a miserable CHARNEL house!
Nothing’s CHANGED: especially in the way Muslims BEHAVE there!
Islam’s Muslims ALWAYS RESENTED losing their BLOODY GRIP upon Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan (& S. Sudan), Tanzania & Uganda, ‘cos once Muslims CONQUER a land, it’s ALWAYS considered by them to be Muslim (see: ‘the Waqf’)! See: Winston Churchill: ‘The River War’ (OLDER editions, 1899-1902: of this DEFINITIVE account to GROK what REALLY happened to that once-productive, once-diverse region!)!