Kenya shopping mall attack: Hostage-taking breaks the pattern of youthful Islamist attacks

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

For those familiar with the methods of the Somali Islamists, Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen [or Mujahedin Youth Movement], the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall initially appeared to be a textbook operation. A team of gunmen had blasted its way into a high-value target using assault rifles and grenades and proceeded to inflict as many casualties as possible.

What was surprising was not that Somali extremists might have struck at the wealthy heart of East Africa’s biggest economy, Kenya, by targeting a mall frequented mainly by the country’s elite, international diplomats and expats, but that the strike had become a siege that was still continuing last night, after 36 hours.

Reports that some civilians caught up in the attack had been taken by the fighters to use as a human shield or hostages marked a departure from the militants’ usual methods.

The group’s most high-profile attack this year had come in June in Somalia’s seaside capital Mogadishu, where a car bomb blasted open the gates to a heavily guarded compound allowing half a dozen gunmen inside, where they hunted United Nations staff until they were killed themselves by Somali security services and armed guards.

There was no attempt to take hostages. Soon after the attack, an al-Shabaab spokesman boasted on Twitter of another success for its “ martyrdom brigade”.

Similarly, earlier this month a car bomb was used to draw a crowd outside the popular Village restaurant near the Somali capital’s parliament building. Once the onlookers had gathered, a suicide bomber ran into their midst and detonated himself, killing some 15 people.

As with most of the Islamists’ operations there was one thing in common: none of the attackers had expected to survive. When al-Shabaab withdrew two years ago from the battle lines it had drawn and held for so long in Mogadishu – in response to internal criticism of the way it had handled an appalling famine blighting the country – it left behind evidence of the youth of the fighters it had relied on.

The bullet-riddled buildings where its young soldiers had spent their lives during the struggle to oust African Union forces from Uganda and Burundi were plastered with adolescent graffiti.

Alongside the vertical columns of religious writings, bored youths had scrawled fantastical figures of naked women. While the group’s leaders include a number of clan elders and some foreign fighters, battle-hardened in north Africa and Afghanistan, most of its rank and file are little more than teenagers lured with the promise of $300 and a trip to paradise via martyrdom. These young men, and sometimes women, have been the mainstay of suicide operations inside Somalia.

It had been assumed that the intentions of the Nairobi attackers were similar. A message on the al-Shaabab Twitter feed said the group would not negotiate with Kenyan forces, but the length of the attack suggests otherwise.

Video: Kenya shopping mall attack

 

Further reading:

The victims came from around the world. So did their killers
Was wife of 7/7 bomber among attackers?
'All hostages freed' as Kenyan soldiers take control of mall
Kenyans are more united in tragedy’s aftermath
The victims: The architect and his pregnant wife
Video: Amateur footage from Kenya shopping mall attack
Ian Birrell: How to fight al-Shabaab

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Structural Engineer ...

Recruitment Genius: New Business Development Manager - OTE £36,000

£22000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A New Business Manager role sui...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - Inbound & Outbound Calls

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This particular opportunity is ...

Recruitment Genius: Windows Server Engineer - Compute Engineer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Compute Engineer role also ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor