Akash Soni, Zee Media Correspondent from Nairobi
The Kenyan government is still coming to terms with the terror threat. Talking to citizens here in Nairobi, one feels the Westgate Hostage crisis has shocked the country into accepting global terror as a reality of today`s world. It`s a wake-up call. "Uptil now, terror attacks were something that happened in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan. Now it is happening to us," says Robert, a journalist in Nairobi.
It is bizarre. We are having this conversation just 50 metres away from the mall next to a barricade. An armoured personnel carrier enters the check-post followed by more Army vehicles. What will such an ultra modern personnel carrier do when the President declared to the world that the siege is over? `Because my friend the siege is not over,` says journalist Edward Manning. The Kenyan government, it seems, is trying to underplay this huge crisis that threatens to tear away the country`s secular fabric.
Chilling similarities and beyond
This is Nairobi`s 26/11. There are chilling similarities between Nairobi Mall and Mumbai terror attacks. Both are well-coordinated and well-planned terror attacks, both involve youth. Both targeted innocent people. Both involved a hostage situation, both saw governments brought to their knees and blackmailed by terrorists. Both debated whether Israel`s zero tolerance policy is the way ahead but both are still dithering on a policy on how to tackle terror. If there is a Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan, there is a Mukhtar Abu Zakir in Somalia. While the masterminds of 26/11 attacks sat in neighbouring Pakistan, the kingpin of Nairobi Westgate Mall attack is in hiding in the neighbouring failed state of Somalia. Mukhtar Abu Zubair aka Mohammed Adi Godane has pledged obedience to al Qaeda`s Ayman al Jawahiri and he is the man behind the devious designs of al Shabaab.
Most vicious terrorists
US President Barack Obama has called al Shabab one of the `most vicious terrorist outfits in the world`. Kenya is now bearing the brunt of terror as India has been for decades. But governments have to contend with another reality. The world is also becoming a global terror village. Intelligence officials in Kenya are saying that when pressure on militants was increased in Pakistan and Afghanistan, many of them came to Somalia and it has become their base of operations. Mumbai terror attacks that killed 164 were seen as a major success by al Shabab. London`s 7/7 attack in 2005, the first suicide attack in UK on the country`s underground rail network claimed 52 lives, 700 were injured. Three of the attackers were British born and of Pakistani origin, aged 18, 22 and 30. The fourth was a Jamaican - Jermaine Lindsay aged 19; the `White Widow` Samatna Lewthwaite is his wife.
The White widow - Samantha Lewthwaite - could be a vital link between London and Nairobi terror attacks. Soldiers and survivors tell us - in the Nairobi mall she was giving orders, "she was the one in command".
Intelligence sources claim she supervised the men, gave orders - they followed every time coming out and spraying bullets at specific areas of the mall killing innocent people desperately clinging to their lives.
The Kenyan government`s first response was, "There is no woman there among the terrorists. There were men dressed as women." British counter-terror officials, it seems, differed. They had specific information. In fact, reports suggest she led a group of youth some as young as 18 to 23, some from the US and the UK. Confirmation from the Kenyan authorities may never come, they seem more busy in trying to show the world that the crisis really isn`t as big as it is though out to be. As the Kenyan forces move in to `claim bodies` and investigate further, there is a world of evidence and information from survivors` ordeals to CCTVs that were pockmarked across the upmarket mall.
Al Qaeda`s `show`
For Kenya, it all started with al Shabaab crossing the borders from Somalia and kidnapping Kenyan citizens. Somalia is a failed state where a weak secular government bolstered by US has been battling a Wahabi philosophy inspired al Shabab. Al Shabab owes allegiance to al Qaeda`s Ayman al Jawahiri. Mumbai terror attacks were seen as a shot in the arm for their cause among the rank and file in al Shabab. Infact, defence experts in Nairobi say the attack in the mall will only strengthen al Shabaab who seem set to milk what they see as a successful attack to recruit more youth in the West and more importantly to generate funds for their inhuman cause. To tackle him, Kenya sent its forces inside Somalia and with the help of US they pushed al Shabaab from major towns into rural areas of Somalia. Eyewitnesses told Zee Media on the condition of anonymity that some attackers actually shouted, "This is payback time," before they killed people in the Nairobi mall.
Nairobi, Mumbai. Will India, Kenya, US stand together?
Nairobi mall attack is not an attack that the world can wish away. Terror cannot be dealt with in an Ostrich-like approach. It was a brutal attack by al Shabaab terrorists which aimed to kill non-Muslim people. Ordinary people went to Nairobi`s upmarket Westgate mall, families buying groceries, children participating in a competition. Here in Nairobi, people are raising questions over whether the death toll is much higher than what has been claimed by the government. The reason, Indians comprise almost 50 to 75% of the people who come to this mall which is also popular among the expatriates. Innocent lives taken for no fault of theirs.
Al Shabab in Arabic means `youth.` Here in Nairobi, the military chief of Kenya has said there are clear intelligence inputs that suggest that youngsters were recruited from various countries. Sources say the al Shabaab terrorists included people as old as 18 to 23 and they most probably include youth recruited from Western nations including US and UK citizens. The dead include people from India, US, UK, France, Netherlands, South Africa, China and South Korea. The key question is - will India, US and Kenya stand together to combat terror? So far, the terrorists seem to be much more organised globally than governments.