The shocking attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya’s capital Nairobi was not just mindless terrorism. More than 60 shoppers died and nearly 200 were injured in the well-planned attack, claimed by Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab.
Kenyan troops were central to the invasion of neighbouring Somalia in October 2011. Al Shabaab or its sympathisers have carried out more than 50 reprisal attacks in Kenya, killing at least 70 people.
Previous assaults on a much smaller scale were near the Somali border, in the coastal city of Mombasa, which has a large Muslim population. Others were in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi, where many Somali migrants live.
Its previous biggest attack had been in Uganda. A series of bombs killed 60 people there on the night of the World Cup final in 2010. But when the casualties were among the poor, the attacks had little international impact.
Westgate was chosen for this operation because, as Kenyan socialist Zahid Rajan put it, “It is the venue of choice for wealthy people across the racial divide”. To most better-off Kenyans the malls like Westgate were seen as a haven from the embittered, violent country. One eyewitness tweeted, “When the first gunshot was fired, we ran into the mall instead of away”.
Zahid told Socialist Worker, “There has been a fantastic humanitarian response to the scale of the tragedy. “People are volunteering to help. A special bloodbank has been set up in the city’s main park. “The attackers may have thought they would divide Muslims from other Kenyans, but this hasn’t worked.”
Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta has posed as a champion of national unity since the attack. But Kenya has pulled out of the international criminal court because he was due to appear before it, accused of organising communal violence at the time of the 2007 election.
Central authority collapsed in Somalia with the fall of US-backed dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991. Al Shabaab was part of the Islamic Courts movement that restored some kind of government in 2006. This was overthrown by a US-backed invasion and the group has since moved to more extreme forms of Islamism.
After the invasion by Kenyan and Ethiopian troops in 2011 it said that it supported the ideas of Al Qaida. Even Rob Wise of the US Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank comments that it was “a relatively moderate Islamist organisation”, which was driven towards Al Qaida by invasion.
He added that since 2008 al Shabaab has “increasingly embraced transnational terrorism and attempted to portray itself as part of the Al Qaida-led global war on the West.” The horror in Kenya is a direct product of Western intervention.