Kenya shopping mall attack: Hostage-taking breaks the pattern of youthful Islamist attacks - Africa - World - The Independent

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

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
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

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week