September 23, 2013 | Quote

Nairobi Mall Attack Signals the Rise of al-Shabaab

Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia has suffered major setbacks in that country in the last year and a half. Saturday’s horrific attack on an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya shows al-Shabaab is not only alive but is capable of sowing mayhem outside the borders of the country it has fought over for nearly a decade.

The military-style assault Saturday at the Westlake Shopping mall in Nairobi was the first major al-Shabaab attack outside of Somalia since 2010 when the group set off bombs at multiple locations in Kampala, Uganda, killing more than 70 people who had gathered to watch the world cup.

Since then, al-Shabaab and its supporters have launched cross-border raids and smaller attacks inside Kenya, a country that has trained and supported Somali fighters aligned with the country’s weak interim government. In this same period, though, the group has lost its base of operations in southern Somalia. The last strong hold for al-Shabaab fell in October 2012 when Somali government forces, along with African Union peacekeepers, drove al-Shabaab out of its last safe haven in the port city of Kismayo.

Mohammed Abdirahman Farole, the media adviser to and son of the president of Somalia’s Puntland region, said the attack in Nairobi Saturday represented a new strategy for al Qaeda’s Somalia affiliate. “This is part of a new phase for al Qaeda because al Shabaab lost the big war in Somalia,” he said. “They have attacked a soft target in order to tell the world, ‘we are here.’” Farole’s father has aligned with American allies  like the United Arab Emirates to take on pirate coves in his territory and fight al-Shabaab. Farole’s son said he assessed that al-Shabaab had the capability to launch attacks throughout the region and perhaps even in the West. “They are becoming an international organization,” he said.

“Since the beginning of 2012 al-Shabaab went from being a major governing entity in southern Somalia to losing its last stronghold in Kismayo,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Similar to a number of other jihadist groups toppled from power, the group largely melted away in 2012. But it retained military capabilities.”



Al Qaeda