Al-Shabaab Attack Fulfills Threat in Kenyan Support for Somalia

The attack by the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab on an upscale mall in Nairobi yesterday fulfills a threat it made two years ago to retaliate over Kenya’s military intervention to back Somalia’s government.

At least 59 people died and 175 were injured when gunmen stormed the Westgate mall yesterday in the Kenyan capital. An unspecified number of hostages were being held more than 24 hours after the raid began, according to the government. The group, whose full name means Mujahedeen Youth Movement in Arabic, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Al-Shabaab has been fighting Somalia’s government since at least 2006 to establish an Islamic state and impose Shariah law in the Horn of Africa nation. The group targeted Kenya after the country’s army invaded Somalia in October 2011 to help African Union peacekeepers and Ethiopian forces battling al-Shabaab.

The militant group claimed responsibility in July 2010 for twin bomb attacks in neighboring Uganda that killed 76 people watching the soccer World Cup final at two separate venues. Al-Shabaab said it targeted Uganda because the country has troops serving in Somalia’s African Union peacekeeping force.

Yesterday’s attack marked the third time in two days that Islamist militants have struck an African capital.

Members of the Boko Haram Islamist group clashed on Sept. 20 with Nigerian security forces who were investigating a suspected militant weapons cache at a building site in Abuja. Nine people died in the fighting, the Nation newspaper reported yesterday, citing an unidentified witness. At least five people died in grenade and gun attacks blamed on al-Shabaab in the main Bakara market in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, yesterday.

Kenya’s Incursion

The U.S. designated al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization in 2008. The United Nations Security Council has imposed sanctions on the group and at least 13 individuals linked to it.

The Kenyan government sent its troops into Somalia after accusing al-Shabaab of carrying out a wave of attacks on foreigners, including the murder of a British tourist and at least four kidnappings. The group denied responsibility and vowed to strike back at Kenya with bomb attacks.

The incursion by Kenyan troops helped liberate strategic areas in Somalia from al-Shabaab’s control, including the port of Kismayo in October 2012. Kismayo was key to the group’s ability to collect taxes to finance its activities and receive weapons and supplies. Income from Somali ports earned the group as much as $50 million a year, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia said in 2011.

Al-Shabaab previously threatened to attack Kenya in retaliation for training Somali police officers.

Al-Shabaab’s spiritual leader is thought to be Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who fought against Ethiopia as a colonel under the former Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in the 1970s, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

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