6 comments on “Westgate: Signs of Al Shabaab on the Downswing

    • Early days Buku. A lot of the assertions e.g. re: foreign attackers etc. will become clear over the next few days/weeks. We’re still very much under fog-of-war conditions, so I can’t speculate further. I don’t doubt that Hamas would be happy to target Israeli interests, so a motive hangs true. Iranian agents were picked up in Kenya some months back planning attacks- Hamas is an Iranian vessel. But everything beyond that point is conjecture with respect to Westgate. I would say that Hamas is pretty tied up with what is going on in Syria & Lebanon right now, as is Iran, and I doubt they have the resources or the inclination to invest in launching attacks on other fronts. Time will tell, I guess, but I’d be sceptical for now about stretching this too much further than AS based on what we’ve seen so far.


      • The speculation is based on survivor accounts. One survivor, a Kenyan of Indian origin, complained to the press that one of the people escorted to freedom was one of the attackers whom he personally saw change clothes. He alerted the Police, but they did not take him seriously. This Kenyan of Indian origin said that the person was Arab, not Somali.
        A second witness who played possum to survive after he was shot at (and grazed by bullets) said that the attackers wore scarfs similar to the ones used by Yasser Arafat. The second witness was an African.

        The account of the witness of Indian origin is extremely noteworthy because Indians look more like Persians than Arabs, and so he most likely gave a fairly accurate description of the attacker in describing him as Arab looking. You combine that with independent witness claims of the attackers wearing scarfs that looked like those used by Arafat, and then you see that, quite like the title of your article, Al Shabab was more likely a mere mouth piece, incapable of launching bombs at Kenyans – Iranians (and Hezbollah) look more like Persians. The Arab looking people are more likely to be Hamas – mostly Sunni moslems with roots in Saudi Arabia.

        Hamas using human shields is a classic strategy they use when fighting Israel – they probably supervised the begining of the attack – explaining its ferocity, and then betrayed their fellow, non-core Hamas fighters and fled, hoping that they all die in the firefight to hide any possible evidence.

      • Re: eyewitness accounts- okay, maybe. Eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable in high-intensity situations, but there’s certainly a lot of chatter that there were a range of foreign operatives involved in the attack. Time will tell whether or not this is the case. Al Shabaab does recruit foreigners and have foreigners among their cadres, and non-Somalis would have been easier to infiltrate Kenya, so I don’t think this is definitive of a Hamas link by any stretch. Since 2009/10 al Shabaab has had in increasing number of Arabs and other foreigners coming in, and these have been the hardliners pushing more of a foreign-focused agenda and more radical violence, so again this isn’t a big surprise that they would be involved if it were an al Shabaab attack.

        The checkered headscarf you refer to is called a keffiyeh. It was originally a symbol of solidarity and resistance on behalf of Palestinians, but has since become both a fashion statement and a general statement of political resistance all around the world. Again, that militant fighters might wear keffiyehs is neither surprising, nor in any way conclusive to Hamas, who do not have the monopoly on keffiyeh-wearing gunmen.

        The human-shield strategy likewise goes well beyond Hamas. The tactics used in Westgate are now hallmarks of global terror operations. A similar tactic of holding complex buildings or areas with large numbers of trapped civilians has been used by terrorists in Kabul, in the Mumbai terror attacks, and most recently in the attack in Algeria- a very diverse set of examples. Westgate was pretty much a textbook generic tactical approach that any terrorist planner would have and could have come up with.

        None of this says that Hamas wasn’t involved in Westgate. But at this time, everything you’ve listed is perfectly in line with al Shabaab’s operational reality, and the simpler, more logical explanation is that al Shabaab operatives (possibly with foreign backing, support or urging) planned and carried out the attack in line with their own agenda. Certainly multiple terror groups will see Westgate as a victory and in line with their own goals, Hamas possibly included, but this doesn’t mean they were involved.

  1. Well, even the behaviour of the terrorists suggests that they were not Al Shabab or Al Quaeda. Al Shabab and Al Quaeda are typically suicide bombers. These terrorists
    i)took hostages – a tactic that is not traditionally used by Al Quaeda or Al Shabab.
    ii)when cornered, rather than commit suicide, 11 of the sixteen surrendered. Constant suicide attacks in Mogadishu (and the suicide bombers who killed 78 Christians in Pakistan over the weekend) is more typical of Al Shabab/Al Quaeda behaviour.

    With regards to these attacks, Al Shabab is simply a rag-tag army that, with the help of the actual planners, as a mouth piece, is trying to create a larger-than-life impression after the serious losses and internal discord it is suffering in Somalia. Even on Twitter, it is obvious that there is still internal discord in Al Shabab. One tweeter obviously affiliated to Al Shabab announced a KDF soldier’s death before the Government made it official. He tweeted that people should ignore reports of a list of foreign fighters on another Tweeter account, claiming that he was the sole spokesperson for Al Shabab. However, the Kenya Government has all but confirmed that there were foreign fighters involved, suggesting that the second Tweeter account the first Al Shabab tweeter was telling people to ignore was also information from a valid source. These shows competing interests within Al Shabab.

    It is unlikely that a group of people with such confilcting interests, also killing each other for control of Al Shabab in Somalia( even killing ‘The American’ just as recently as September the 1st,) would have had the level of sophistication to even rent a store in the mall for over a month before the attack, as has now been suggested.

    It is instructive to note that the Government of Kenya has suggested that it was Al Quaeda, not Shabab, responsible for the attacks. However, the modus operandi that excluded suicide bombings suggests to me that not even Al Quaeda was involved in the planning.

    • I just wanted to add that I do not agree with your observation that there was too much confusion to distinguish between an Arab and a Persian by an Indian(Indians look more Persian than Arab.) I highly doubt that, in a shootout, you, as a white person, would have difficulty between distinguishing between a Caucasian and a Persian or an Oriental, especially if you register in your mind that the person was first shooting people, then you observed the person changing clothes to blend into the crowd. It may surprise you that Koreans and Chinese can distinguish one from another just from facial features, whereas most other races have a problem distinguishing them. Had only the African witness suggested the use of keffiyehs, then there would be doubt on the race of the person. However, when we have a Kenyan of Asian origin say the same thing, then it becomes clearer that they were referring to a person of a specific race, of specific characteristics, that were not consistent with the features typical with Somali people.

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