Terrorist attack in Nairobi, how and why?

News - 2019-01-18
On Tuesday Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in Nairobi. Forum Syd speaks to people close to the scenes.

Residents in the Westlands area of Nairobi were startled by several explosions followed by gunfire at 3 pm last Tuesday. The target for the attack was the 14 Riverside business complex which hosts several corporates, the DusitD2 hotel, banks, restaurant and other businesses.

As of Friday morning the death toll from this attack had risen to 21 people, with Kenya’s Inspector General of Police, Joseph Boinet, stating the number could rise. He further stated that 28 persons were seriously wounded.

As it happened

At the scene reporting was John Allan-Namu, investigative journalist and executive director of Forum Syd’s partner Africa Uncensored. In a video posted on Youtube and broadcasted by Citizen TV, John-Allan is seen closely following and documenting the rescue operations. He is tagging behind security officers and police in riot gear as they evacuate hundreds of people from the hotel. At one point he juggles between reporting and offering support to victims of the attack.

What struck with me was the sheer terror on the faces of people who escaped. How difficult it was to determine which direction to go when we got there. How survivors fought back tears as they spoke to us. The swift response of our elite security forces, but ultimately, how attacks like these remind us of what unites us.

Quick security response

Shortly afterward Somali based terrorist group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack. The hotel is located in an upper town area with close proximity to three Western embassies. Security expert Mwenda Mbijiwe congratulates the defense response when interviewed for Daily Nation.

The fact that our security forces managed to evacuate more than 700 people should tell you that the attack failed miserably, Mr Mbijiwe states.

Location and timing of the attack

Bashir Hashi, country manager for Somalia at Forum Syd gives his view on the reasons for the timing and location of the attack.

For some time now divisions between the federal government and regional states have deepened which is something Al-Shabaab can thrive on.

A few recent events explain the divisions Mr Hashi refers to. A couple of months back the federal government of Somalia intervened in a local election, arrested the local political candidate and enforcing their own candidate. This move prompted condemnation from local actors and blamed on AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) forces present which led UNSOM (UN Assistance Mission in Somalia) demanding some explanation from the federal government. This in turn resulted in that the Federal government expelled UNSOM:s General Secretary Nicholas Haysom from the country accusing him of internal affairs interference.

The diplomatic statement correlates with the downscaling of UN presence. Something Mr Hashi predicts will imply loss of valuable intelligence information assisting to track the terrorist group.

Further, the Somali regional state of Jubaland bordering Kenya has in the last months actively tried to uproot Al-Shabaab territorial holdings in the province. Jubaland and Kenya share strong historical bonds and the resistance against Al-Shabaab are supported by Kenya. 

The choice of location could be political; the President of Somali state Galmudug was visiting the hotel. But the reason for executing the attack in Kenya could also be a message to the Kenyan state for intervening and supporting the local government in Jubaland, he explains.   

Kenyan response

President Uhuru Kenyatta, on Wednesday, released a statement stating that the rescue operation had ended, five terrorist had been killed and commended Kenyans for showing unity and strength during the trying times while urging them to report any suspicious activity to the police.

We will seek out every person that was involved in planning, funding, and execution of this attack. We are on the highest alert and we shall remain so. In the coming days and weeks, we shall continue the never-ending work of strengthening our systems. From the means available Judicial arms, we will continue taking every step to make our nation inhospitable to terrorist groups and their networks, he stated.

In his address, Uhuru confirmed that more than 700 victims were evacuated to safety during the attack that lasted more than 16 hours.

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