ByÂ Aditi Thakker:
While a bomb blast outside a church in Pakistan’s north-western city Peshawar proved to be yet another rude shock from the Taliban, a terror attack of a different magnitude was unfolding in Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall. Westgate shopping mall is an upmarket shopping area in Kenya’s capital. Much like what Mumbai witnessed in the 26/11 attacks, Westgate was attacked in similar fashion. The assailants entered the mall premises loaded with automatic weapons and hand grenades.
While examining the situation at ground, the terrorist group Al-Shabaab from neighbouring Somalia has taken responsibility for the attack. They are known to be Islamic extremists, who have associated themselves with the infamous Al Qaeda organisation. Al Shabaab group apparently tweeted, that they have attacked Westgate Shopping Mall in retaliation to Kenya’s interference in the internal matter of Somalia. Somalia has been called a failed state with its economy in ruins and the threat of war looming strong. After much deliberation the African Union, with approval from the United Nations, sanctioned peacekeeping activities in southern Somalia under AMISOM. Kenya supported these activities by sending their army to Somalia. The situation is quite similar, to when India sent its army to restore peace and order in conflict-stricken North and Eastern Sri Lanka two and half decades ago. Interfering in the internal matters of a sovereign state never ends well. While India lost a Prime Minister due to this act, it seems like Kenya is beginning to be targeted for similar reasons. As much as finding a resolution to the civil war in Somalia is important, foreign interference in intrastate matters is hardly ever appreciated.
European and American countries have gradually become a target for Islamic militants, due to various reasons. Westgate shopping mall was not only popular with Kenya’s upper class society, but also a favourite for foreign tourists and expatriates living in Nairobi. Westgate was a favourable target since the attacks were aimed at killing foreign, or more precisely non-Muslim shoppers. Many African-Indians from trading backgrounds also frequented the shopping mall. Some reports suggest that Muslim shoppers were allowed to escape, while those following other religions were killed or injured. This scenario too, is quite similar to what India faced during the 26/11 attacks. An upmarket location being brought under attack with the intent of killing local as well as foreign nationals.
The owners and builders of Westgate shopping mall are Israeli nationals. Many Israelis also have popular shops in the mall. For purposes of speculation, this too could be a reason that Westgate was chosen over other possible targets in the city. Al Shabaab is an ardent supporter of the Palestinian Independence cause, and considers Israel the enemy. One may not be able to see the connection here, but then there was no obvious reason for Nariman House, the residence of an Israeli Jewish Rabbi in Mumbai, being attacked during 26/11either. Islamic militants have attacked Israeli nationals in East Africa in the past too, like the Entebbe Airport hijacking incident.
The terrorists may proclaim that they are acting in the name of Islam, but propagating and inciting violence that kills many, can never be a religious affair. Such acts are only to gain political or media prominence or a move in the power struggle. Let us not forget, that God does not need anyone to defend him, or fight for him. Equally important is the fact that Al Shabaab acts for themselves, not for Somalia, the Somalis or Muslims around the world.
East Africa has been in quite a volatile situation since the Kenya post election violence in 2007-08. The constant inflow of refugees from Somalia, has only added to tensions between Kenya and Somalia. The friction between various political and religious groups, violence between ethnic groups and the rate of corruption in Kenya and its neighbours has also been increasing.
After a fresh attack on Kenyan policemen by gunmen from Al Shabaab a day after the siege ended, the situation is only getting more tensed. While Kenyans are still in shock after such unexpected attacks, Somalis living in Kenya fear a backlash. It is not obvious what Al Shabaab wished to prove through this attack, however the fact that new forms of terrorist attacks are coming up at such a fast pace, leaves one with no option but to question the state of international security today. Even after 68 years of its existence, the UN is constantly failing in its diplomatic efforts in much of the developing world that is engulfed in civil war. Civil war may be an intrastate affair, but its effects certainly aren’t. After all it only requires a few guys and some AK 47s to shake a place to its core.