Nairobi, Kenya—Islamic terrorists infiltrated the upscale West Gate Mall this weekend, exchanging gunfire with the heavily armed Kenyan security forces which have surrounded the mall, and vow to take it back. 68 have been killed thus far. 175 have been injured. Around 30 hostages have been taken. This is the worst attack Kenya has ever experienced. No one even knows how many shoppers and mall employees are still in the West Gate. The siege is now on its second day. This Kenyan Mall crisis, shocking and disturbing as it is, also raises lots of questions. The most pertinent to us is could al-Shabab attack the U.S.?
Al-Shabab is an Arabic phrase meaning “the youth.” An Islamic terrorist organization located in Somalia, this radical group of youths splintered off from the Union of Islamic courts back in 2006—the Islamic organization that was running parts of Somalia at the time. Somalia has been a failed state of warring factions for over a decade. Islamic fundamentalists from all over have come to join the ranks a al-Shabab. In the areas of Somalia under its control, al-Shabab enacted Sharia law, cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning adulterous women to death, among other atrocities.
Al-Shabab has been pushed out of most major cities in Somalia, marginalized by the African Union’s recent military incursions there. Kenya played a significant role in that offensive. The attack on West Gate Mall then is an act of vengeance. Other small scale attacks by the terrorist group have been carried out in Kenya, mainly bus and church bombings, but nothing of this magnitude.
See a video of al-Shabab battling African Union soldiers here: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MKGGAlvplY>
The leader of their group is known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, a Somaliland native whose real name is Ahmed Abdi Godane. Al-shabab’s ranks number between 7,000 and 9,000. Their net worth is said to be between $70 million and $100 million, collected from levies on port and airport traffic until the AU removed them from power. In addition to these heinous acts in Kenya, Al-shabab militants are responsible for the twin bombings in Uganda during the 2010 World Cup final.
Al Qaida and al-shabab formed an alliance in 2012. Al Qaida operatives have been known to fight alongside al-Shabab fighters in Somalia. But now however, analysts say that the relationship has soured. The terrorist group has suffered other setbacks as well. Popularity among Somali’s is dismal. Their standing quickly plummeted after destroying Sufi temples, as the majority of Somali’s are Sufi Muslims. They also denied Western food aid during the famine that plagued Somalia in 2011, causing support amongst the populace to evaporate altogether.
But could al-Shabab attack the U.S.? So far, all of their latest activities have been directed against the African Union, particularly the members who sent the most troops, Uganda and Kenya. Al-shabab seems too preoccupied with African issues to look outside their region.
However Robert King, a conservative republican congressman from New York and a member of the House homeland security committee, has insinuated otherwise. He points out that between 15 and 20 American Somali’s have been recruited by al-Shabab. Still, the break with Al Qaida is said to be over al-Shabab’s preoccupation with regaining control in Somalia. Al Qaida’s focus is on regional and international attacks. The U.S. did however support battles against al-Shabab. Washington supported Ethiopia in its push against the terrorist group in 2006 and financed an African force moving against them again in 2008.
The Kenyan mall crisis is shocking and disturbing. For Americans it breaks back memories of 9/11. Could al-Shabab attack the U.S.? It’s possible but unlikely. Al-shabab is on the run. It is preoccupied with Africa. Their highest priority retaking Somalia and exacting revenge on those who helped tip the balance of power out of their hands.
By: Philip Perry