Somalia: Mall Massacre Sends The Wrong Message

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September 23, 2013: In Nairobi, Kenya the fighting with Somali al Shabaab gunmen in a mall continues. The government says that most hostages have been freed and that troops are closing in on the remaining terrorist gunmen. An Internet announcement said the terrorists in the mall were holding hostages, which they would kill if security forces continued attacking them. Last night the government said the mall was being cleared and would soon be safe. The hostages have been used as human shields, complicating army and police efforts to eliminate the terrorists inside the mall. Al Shabaab describes the mall attack, which has left nearly a hundred dead and 200 wounded, as retaliation for Kenyan peacekeepers coming into Somalia to fight the Islamic terror group. The Kenyan government repeated promises that attacks like this will not lead to a withdrawal of Kenyan troops from southern Somali. What’s going on between Somalia and Kenya goes back a long time. The Somalis have been raiding what is now Kenya for centuries, and for once the Kenyans have the upper hand. They are not dissuaded by terror attacks. Al Shabaab believes that an attack of this magnitude would change that. So far the Kenyan reaction appears more anger than fear, and that bodes ill for Somalis (citizens and refugees) living in Kenya.

Al Shabaab sponsored terror attacks in Kenya over the last few years has created a backlash against the Somali population there. There is growing tension between Kenyan Christians and Somalis. About ten percent (4 million) of Kenyans, mostly along the coast, are Moslems, and most of these are ethnic Somalis. There has always been some Islamic radical activity among Kenyan Moslems, but the police have been particularly attentive to it after Kenyan Moslems were found to be involved in terrorist operations in the 1990s.

What the police have not done, however, is make much of a dent in the criminal infrastructure that supports smuggling, money laundering, a black market for guns, IDs, and drugs, and much else. The cops are often bought off, and the criminal gangs (especially the many Arab and Somali ones) provide support for terrorist operations in Somalia and Kenya. For example, a lot of the pirate ransom money ended up in Kenya, either for purchases of goods shipped to Somalia or to be laundered and invested. Wealthy Somalis often find it prudent to go into exile, and Kenya is a popular place to retire to.

Then there are the overseas Somalis. Most of these are in Britain (300,000) and the United States (150,000). There are also half a million Somali refugees in northern Kenya and several hundred thousand more in places like Ethiopia and Yemen. Somali Islamic radicals often send their families into exile, to protect them, and some Islamic radicals have themselves gone into exile. There, Somali men, usually young (teenager to early 20s), are recruited and sent back to Somali for more indoctrination and training. Some are killed there, and some return to the U.S. and Britain to help with recruiting and, it is feared, to carry out terrorist attacks. This Western source of recruits has been largely shut down but Somalis outside Somalia continue to be a source of radicalized recruits for al Shabaab and cash for terrorist organizations.  

The Somali Islamic radicals have long been recruiting from among Kenya's Moslem population. This recruiting has slowed in the last year because of the many defeats al Shabaab has suffered recently in Somalia. But many radicalized young Somalis are still living among the refugees and Moslem populations of Kenya. Police attempts to find and arrest Islamic radicals are often clumsy and result in innocents being rounded up or killed. This just creates more anger in the Moslem neighborhoods. The mall murders are expected to increase the police pressure on Kenyan Somalis. Many al Shabaab believe that this might trigger a Moslem uprising in Kenya and lead to a combined Somali-Kenyan Islamic state. This is pure fantasy but it’s the sort of thing Islamic terrorism thrives on. The mall attack and continued terror attacks in Somalia appear to be al Shabaab’s way of remaining in the news. A group like al Shabaab survives only as long as it can attract new recruits and cash donations. Western governments are trying to cut off the flow of cash to al Shabaab, and that is having some impact. But the fanatical puritanism and righteousness of Islamic terror groups still appeals to some young Moslem men, who see little future for themselves. Most Moslem societies have major problems with providing education and curbing corruption. This combination discourages foreign investment and economic growth. The Islamic radical solution is a mirage but to the young, unemployed, uneducated, and violence prone it resonates.   

It is believed that al Shabaab attacked this particular mall because it is popular with foreigners and wealthy Kenyans. Many Moslems work or shop there and some are believed to have died despite al Shabaab efforts to spare Moslems. Al Shabaab also made much of the fact that some of the mall owners are Israeli and Israel has been helping Kenya with intelligence and expert advice that has been useful in the fight against Islamic terrorists.

In Mogadishu two years of increasing security has attracted more foreigners (diplomats, aid agencies, and entrepreneurs) and that has sent real estate values increasing by a factor of ten or more. This has forced out many long-term renters and led to corrupt officials assisting in the theft of some properties. This is usually done using false ownership documents obtained by bribing a government official and then bribing police to assist in the eviction. Court officials are then bribed to make the theft stick. This is causing a lot of anger in the city. In addition, the government is forcing over a hundred thousand refugees from areas outside the city.

September 21, 2013: In Nairobi, Kenya some 15 al Shabaab gunmen stormed into an upscale mall and began killing people. Those who could prove they were Moslem were spared but all others were killed. Automatic weapons and grenades were used and by the end of the day 59 were confirmed dead and over 200 wounded. Many of the casualties were women and children. Soldiers and police responded quickly and drove the attackers into a single location where the gunmen kept shooting and said they had hostages. Israeli counter-terrorism experts who were in Kenya quickly went to the mall to assist the security forces. Israel offered additional help.

Al Shabaab had its twitter account shut down again for violating Twitter terms of service by announcing the Nairobi attack and taking credit for it. Al Shabaab had that account shut down on September 6th for more Terms of Service violations but the terrorist group started a new account on September 10th. Last February al Shabaab began using a new Twitter account and criticized Twitter for shutting down al Shabaab’s original (since 2011) account on January 20th because the Islamic terrorists had used Twitter to make specific threats against several people on January 16th. This is not allowed by the Twitter terms of service. The al Shabaab account had over 20,000 followers.

September 16, 2013: Some 30 kilometers north of Mogadishu, peacekeepers and Somali troops forced al Shabaab out of Mahadeey. The town is one of dozens of small places still held by al Shabaab gunmen. Al Shabaab rarely fights to hold onto these places anymore and flees at the approach of troops. The al Shabaab men will find some other place to set up shop. If cornered, groups like this will often fight to the death.

Uganda has ordered 24 of its peacekeepers to return home tomorrow and face charges of corruption. Those recalled include some officers, one them was the general commanding the Ugandan peacekeepers, whose next job was to be the military attaché at the Ugandan embassy in Kenya.  The soldiers were caught stealing supplies meant for Ugandan peacekeepers and selling the food and fuel on the black market. Some junior officers reported suspicions that some of their superiors in Somalia were involved. The Ugandan troops had been complaining of shortages and the government quietly conducted an investigation.

September 14, 2013: Al Shabaab fired on a peacekeeper base outside Marka (70 kilometers south of Mogadishu) and apparently set off a bomb inside the town. Although AU peacekeepers and Somali troops drove al Shabaab gunmen out of the port town of Marka a year ago, there are still armed al Shabaab operating in the area. This town has long served as a base for al Shabaab terrorists carrying out attacks in Mogadishu.   

September 13, 2013: In Kismayo, some al Shabaab gunmen attacked a military base. No casualties were reported but there were believed to be dead and wounded on both sides.

September 12, 2013: In Kismayo a car bomb exploded near the convoy of Ahmed Mohamed Islam (the senior government official in the southern region now called Jubbaland). Several civilians were killed but the intended target was unharmed. It’s not known if the attack was carried out by al Shabaab or local political rivals of Ahmed Mohamed Islam.

In the south (Al Baate) an American (Omar Shafik Hammami) member of al Shabaab was killed in a shootout with other al Shabaab members. Hammami has been with al Shabaab since 2006 and handled Internet propaganda for the terrorist group. Last year he was condemned to death by al Shabaab leaders who objected to Hammami accusing them of corruption. Six months ago the U.S. announced a $5 million reward for help in capturing Hammami, who has been hiding out in Somalia, apparently unable to get out of the country. Islamic terrorists with a large price on their heads and condemned to death by their fellow terrorists have limited options when it comes to finding sanctuary. There were many other Islamic terrorists, including some al Shabaab members, who supported Hammami. Apparently two of these allies died with Hammami. Some terrorist groups criticized al Shabaab for killing Hammami rather than clearing up the corruption charges.

September 11, 2013: Near the Ethiopian border (Hiran, central Somalia) al Shabaab executed two of its own men, one for spying and the other for armed robbery.

September 9, 2013: In Mogadishu al Shabaab fired mortars at a residential areas and an army base. There were no casualties.

September 8, 2013: In Mogadishu al Shabaab used a roadside bomb to attack a military convoy but only managed to damage one vehicle.

September 7, 2013: In Mogadishu al Shabaab set off two bombs in a parking lot, killing eighteen people.

September 3, 2013: Outside Mogadishu al Shabaab used a roadside bomb to attack a convoy carrying the president. The target was unharmed. 

 

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