Al-Qaeda’s Somali affiliate Al-Shabaab found a convenient soft target, lashing out at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall Sept. 21, killing at least 60 and wounding more than 300. Despite President Obama’s best efforts to get al-Qaeda operatives around the globe, the late Osama bin Laden’s criminal gang continues to plague the civilized world. Not much was known Aug. 7, 1998 when Bin Laden struck the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 233 embassy employees, largely from Kenya and Tanzania. Former President Bill Clinton’s throwaway Cruise missile attacks at Bin Laden’s training camp 200 kilometers from Kabul, Afghanistan did little to deter the renegade Saudi from striking the U.S.S guided missile frigate Cole in Oct. 12, 2000 killing 17 and injuring 39 U.S. sailors. Much more is known today about al-Qaeda’s command-and-control, despite the horrific attack in one of Nairobi’s posh shopping centers.
U.S. officials know personally the reach of Somalia’s al-Shabaab, whose terrorists created mayhem Oct. 3-4, 1993 shooting down two U.S. UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, killing 18 and injuring 73 in what became known as “The Battle of Mogadishu” or “Black Hawk Down.” While U.S. officials were asleep at the switch in 1993 watching the first aborted World Trade Center bombing and Battle of Mogadishu, al-Qaeda’s reach extended around the globe until brought into clear focus Sept. 11, 2001, where 2,996 victims, including the hijackers, fell to Bin Laden’s madness. Yesterday’s attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall exposes vulnerability to so-called soft-targets, frequently traveled public places lacking the kind of security to prevent such mass killings. Holed up with hostages at the Westgate Mall, Nairobi police will have to make a strategic decision knowing that al-Shabaab’s thugs will try to negotiate their way to safety with their human bargaining chips.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has little room for error as the crisis morphs into a mop-up operation after more than 24-hours. “Our top priority remains to safeguard the lives of innocent people held up in this unfortunate incident,” said Kenyatta, knowing that Western officials find negotiating with al-Qaeda fruitless. Blasting and shooting their way with grenades and Kalashnicovs, al-Shabaab won’t go down without massacring the remaining hostages in al-Qaeda’s expected martyrdom. “It has been quiet. They will be arranging how to attack,” said an unnamed Kenyan paramilitary officer, believing Nairobi military and police won’t let al-Shabaab escape. “Ten hours have passed and the Mujahedeen are still strong inside the Westgate Mall and still holding their ground. All praise is due to Allah,” wrote al-Shabaab on their Twitter account. Kenyan officials know this kind of fanaticism that doesn’t bode well for the remaining hostages.
Since Bin Laden’s death May 1, 2011, al-Qaeda has fought for its relevance under the diabolical leadership of 62-year-old physician, former Muslim Brotherhood devotee Ayman al-Zawahri. When the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers struck the Boston Marathon April 15 with two pressure cooker bombs killing 5 and injuring 280, al-Zawahri took credit for the mayhem, showing al-Qaeda’s continued global reach, especially at soft targets. U.S. officials worry that fortifying airports isn’t the only way to stop al-Qaeda’s attacks, whose sympathies find lunatics all over the globe ready to sign up. When U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was sentenced to death by an Army jury Aug. 28 for the Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood, Texas massacre of 13 soldiers, the U.S. government refused to acknowledge that Hasan’s attack was an act of terrorism. After combing through his e-mails with the late U.S.-born Yemen al-Qaeda terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki his motives were obvious.
Al-Qaeda’s latest episode in Nairobi should send a loud message to U.S. authorities that the war against terrorism goes on. U.S. officials, like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), warned Obama that his recent indecisiveness in Syria could have major implications for future terror attacks on targets inside or outside the U.S. What McCain and other trigger-happy hawks don’t get is that there’s linkage between fostering better cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and dealing with future al-Qaeda strikes. Putin’s main concern about toppling al-Assad was the very real possibility of uncorking a hornet’s nest of more terrorism in Syria. McCain knows that there are more groups than Brig. Gen. Salim Idris’ “Free Syrian Army” trying to topple al-Assad, including al-Qaeda and other Saudi-backed Islamist groups. Yesterday’s attack in Nairobi shows the importance of strong alliances—especially with Putin’s Russia—to help stop acts of global terrorism.
Kenya found out the hard way what happens when it sent troops Oct. 2011 to go after Somali terrorists kidnapping tourists and attacking security forces. Kenya knows that no matter how they’d like to save the remaining hostages, they can’t let the remaining terrorists holed up in a Westgate Mall supermarket escape. Al-Shabaab showed their ruthlessness in neighboring Uganda, killing 71 sports fans watching a World Cup TV event in Kampala, April 2010. Kenya’s mess reminds the civilized world that more must be done to combat global terrorism, especially what’s left of Bin Laden’s terror group. Whether Obama’s indecisiveness in Syria encourages al-Qaeda or other terrorists groups is anyone’s guess. Looking at the big picture, it’s far more important to strengthen alliances with countries like Russia with vested interests in combatting terrorism. Only through global partnerships can the U.S. further its mission of combatting terrorism.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.