the interesting question about this, like mumbai, is how do you develop such highly-trained ‘useful idiots’ as these?

The Financial Times quotes a senior government adviser as saying that Shabab had rented a shop in the Westgate mall as part of the meticulous planning that went into the assault. He told the paper: “They rented a shop and have slowly been smuggling in equipment. How do you explain them being able to hold fire from Saturday, Sunday, Monday, to sustain for all those hours?” – RB

Before Kenya Attack, Rehearsals and Planting of Machine Guns
Jeffrey Gettleman, Nicholas Kulish, Eric Schmitt, NYT, Sep 24 2013

NAIROBI, Kenya — The plot was hatched weeks or months ago on Somali soil, by al-Shabab’s “external operations arm,” officials say. A team of English-speaking foreign fighters was carefully selected, along with a target: Nairobi’s gleaming Westgate mall. The building’s blueprints were studied, down to the ventilation ducts. The attack was rehearsed and the team dispatched, slipping undetected through Kenya’s porous borders, often patrolled by underpaid and deeply corrupt border guards. A day or two before the attack, powerful belt-fed machine guns were secretly stashed in a shop in the mall with the help of a colluding employee, officials say. At least one militant had even packed a change of clothes so he could slip out with fleeing civilians after the killings were done. That is the picture emerging from US security officials of the massacre at the Westgate mall, which killed scores of people over the weekend. After a four-day standoff, Pres Kenyatta of Kenya claimed Tuesday to have finally “ashamed and defeated our attackers,” declaring that the last militants still holed up inside the mall had been killed, though the bodies of many civilians, perhaps dozens, had yet to be recovered. Pres Kenyatta said that “intelligence reports had suggested that a British woman and two or three US citizens may have been involved,” but that he could not confirm those reports. US officials said that they had not determined the identities of the attackers and were awaiting DNA tests and footage from the mall’s security cameras, but that they did know the massacre had been meticulously planned to draw “maximum exposure.” A US official said:

They had people in there, they had stuff inside there. You don’t bring something like a crew-served weapon through the door. Those must have been stored well beforehand. This was all ready to go when the shooters walked in.

Kenya is now struggling to explain how 10 to 15 Islamist extremists could lay siege to a shopping mall, killing more than 60 civilians with military-grade weaponry, then hold off Kenyan security forces for days. On multiple occasions, the Kenyan government said the mall was under its control, only to have fighting burst out again. Earlier on Tuesday, al-Shabab bragged in a Twitter message that their fighters were “still holding their ground.” Western security officials fear that several fighters slipped out of the mall during the mayhem of the attack, dropping their guns and disguising themselves as civilians, an account echoed by some witnesses. The way the attack was carried out may have had something to do with the recent killing of Omar Hammami, aka Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki. Hammami was fatally shot by another wing of al-Shabab less than two weeks ago. One reason for the rift was Hammami’s complaints that al-Shabab had become too brutal toward fellow Muslims under the leadership of the group’s emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane. That brutality, Hammami said, was the reason the Shabab had become so unpopular in Somalia and lost so much territory recently. Stig Jarle Hansen, a Norwegian researcher who has published a book on the Shabab, said this rift might explain why the militants in the Nairobi mall decided to spare the lives of many Muslims. In the past, the Shabab have killed countless Muslims in Somalia with suicide bombs and buried Muslim girls up to their necks in sand and stoned them. Hansen said:

Even Osama bin Laden criticized Godane for being too harsh. This attack might have been Godane’s way of saying, ‘See, I’m not so harsh, to Muslims.’

Some Muslims were indeed killed in the mall (well, then, that explodes the theory, doesn’t it – RB). But many survivors of the attack said the militants had questioned people at gunpoint about their religion, ruthlessly sorting out non-Muslims for execution. Alim Manji, a Kenyan radio announcer, remembered that as he uttered an Islamic prayer to save his life, the gunman threatening to kill him spoke fluent English. His accent was “light,” Manji recalled, saying it definitely was not Kenyan. US officials, who said they based their reconstruction of the plot on intelligence reports, witness statements and intercepted electronic messages, say al-Shabab may have recruited English speakers from the US and possibly other Western countries so that they would be able to operate effectively in Kenya. Some survivors, including a newspaper vendor who watched one militant mercilessly shoot a toddler in the legs, said other gunmen had been young and either Somali or Arab. US officials said the militants must have had a back office in Kenya, a safe house to finalize their plot and store their guns. Witnesses said several militants had toted G3 assault rifles, a bulky weapon that Kenyan security services use. Intelligence analysts say this may mean the militants acquired their weapons from corrupt Kenyan officers, who are known to sell or rent out their guns, charging as little as a few dollars an hour. After killing scores of shoppers, the militants retreated into a supermarket and used belt-fed machine guns to hold off the Kenyan forces, killing at least six members. Another mystery: the women. Many witnesses have been emphatic that they saw at least two female militants, armed to the teeth and dressed in fatigues. Earlier, Kenyan officials asserted that there had been no women among the shooters, but on Tuesday, Pres Kenyatta seemed to revive the possibility that one of the assailants was a British woman. Several intelligence analysts in Nairobi speculated that the woman was Samantha Lewthwaite, a Muslim convert who had been married to one of the suicide bombers who struck London in 2005. Kenyan authorities suspected that Lewthwaite had risen up through the ranks of extremist groups and was leading a terrorism cell on the Kenyan coast; though they nearly swooped in on her in 2011, she escaped. In Kenya, she is now known as “the white widow.”

On multiple Twitter feeds, Somali group offered live litany of terror
Lori Hinnant, AP, Sep 24 2013

PARIS – As the deadly attack unfolded inside Kenya’s Westgate mall, the militants who claimed responsibility for the spreading mayhem sent out tweet after tweet, taunting the Kenyan military, defending the mass killings and threatening more bloodshed. Each time Twitter shut the account down, a total of five times according to a US-based security analyst, al-Shabab started a new feed. The sixth account included a post on Tuesday linking to a photo that purported to be two of the attackers “unruffled and strolling around the mall in such sangfroid manner” and mocking Kenya’s security forces for their repeated assurances over two days, also tweeted, that the siege was nearly over. It wasn’t the first time al-Shabab has live-tweeted a terrorist attack, according to J M Berger, a US-based terrorism analyst who monitors the group’s online presence. Berger, whose own efforts to troll AQ and keep terror groups from posting threats have gotten some attention in the recent past, said there are good reasons to take them down this time around. The Jihadis offered comments in real time or nearly so in recent attacks in Mogadishu and the attempted assassination of the Somali president. But the drawn-out Kenya attack, which left at least dozens dead, brought the group to a much wider stage, amplified by its social media savvy. Berger wrote in an email exchange with AP:

The person who runs their Twitter account has obviously invested a lot of energy in the process of grabbing headlines, and for Shabab, the account allows them to amplify the message that they wish to send with the attack itself. By knocking them down over and over again, Twitter kept them from collecting many thousands of followers that it would have kept for the long haul. It is likely impossible and possibly undesirable to permanently deny them the use of services like Twitter. But there are good reasons to weed a garden, even if we can never fully eradicate weeds.

The al-Shabab message, at least according to the tweets, appeared directed at the international community and Kenya specifically to leave Somalia to the Jihadi group. But there may been a broader message, analysts say: Al-Shabab has allied itself with AQ’s global message and its global war. Berger, who has called out al-Shabab before for violating Twitter’s terms of service, did so again after the attack began on Saturday, announced by gunshots, grenades and the group’s chosen hashtag #Westgate. The account was closed. A new feed opened, the handle sent to journalists on the al-Shabab email list, with crisp assurances tweeted back to users who requested their names be added. But as the death toll rose and images were broadcast worldwide of the terror, which included a bloodied woman and terrified children, the group found itself roundly condemned, and the tweets became more defensive:

Mujahidin have no desire to kill women & children and have done everything practically possible to evacuate them before attacking #Westgate.

The communications onslaught, which included back and forth tweets with Kenya’s security forces, had police at one point appealing to “all Kenyans to ignore the propaganda of those intent of dividing us and breaking us down.” Interestingly, the group’s message in the Somali language social media was slightly different and tailored to a more domestic audience than the largely English-language Twitter feeds, said Cedric Barnes, a Nairobi-based analyst for International Crisis Group. Barnes said:

Part of the reason might be to align itself more with the international struggle rather than the Somali-centric war It shows how sophisticated Shabab is, but also some of the networks that assisted in this. It’s incredibly cynical but quite deliberate.

Twitter has not explained why it shut down the accounts, but it prohibits “direct, specific threats of violence against others.” SITE said al-Shabab had been closed down five times, with the sixth account opening Tuesday, a tally that roughly coincided with AP’s count of recent shutdowns of their account. But if al-Shabab was having a hard time staying ahead of email and Twitter administrators, Kenya’s government was having at least as hard a time with its own message. David Gartenstein Ross of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies said:

They’ve really been a model for poor crisis communication. Shabab was further able to sap their credibility by undermining their claims. As an operation itself, it caused chaos, it’s made the Kenyans look bad, it’s inflicted a cost upon the civilian population. They got their message out to the world for several days. I feel it would be best for Twitter to continue to shut down al-Shabab. It’s not like there’s a natural right to having a Twitter feed again. When you become a mass murderer, you forsake some rights. Perhaps having a Twitter feed is one of those. But doing that comes with costs. After the first few times the account was shut down, a series of fake Twitter feeds sprang up, all claiming to be speaking for al-Shabab and carrying false information about the attack. That added to confusion in the first two days of the siege, but neither al-Shabab nor Twitter was to blame. People need to become more discriminating about their social media sources.

Ross drew parallels with the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, which lasted three days, nearly as long as the one in Kenya, and unfolded before the eyes of millions of television viewers. In that case, 10 gunmen laid siege to India’s financial hub, leaving 166 people dead and a host of questions about their motives and identities. A more recent parallel is the days-long hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant in January, when AQ-linked Jihadis broadcast real-time accounts of what was happening inside via a Mauritanian news service known for ties to the group. In that case, as in Kenya, the Jihadis’ account ended up being more open than the Algerian government’s reassurances and downplaying of the death toll, which climbed to more than three dozen hostages in the four-day stand-off. Al-Shabab is a different, more aggressively public organization, analysts say. Its militants eagerly claimed responsibility in Kenya as they have for multiple attacks in Somalia. The fear that spread across Nairobi, as well as al-Shabab’s decision to go public immediately, was calculated by a group whose name means “The Youth” in Arabic (that’s because it didn’t have a name and wasn’t an organisation, until the western media made it so – RB). Al-Shabab said the mall attack was in retribution for Kenyan forces’ 2011 push into neighboring Somalia. African Union forces pushed them out of Mogadishu in 2011.

Attack follows internal power struggle
AP, Sep 24 2013

JOHANNESBURG – The Jihadis of al-Shabab, who claimed responsibility for the Nairobi shopping mall siege, have gone through a deadly power struggle within their ranks in which at least two leaders were assassinated in Somalia. Because of that internal discord, analysts say the AQ-linked group is now led by hard-liners who are dedicated to global Jihad and are putting the region on notice that it could see other similarly spectacular assaults. Abd’i-Rasjid Hashi, deputy director of the Heritage Initiative for Policy Studies, a think tank in Mogadishu, said:

It shows that al-Shabab is not an ethnic organization but an ideologically driven outfit and branch of AQ in the Horn of Africa.

The attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi also counters a narrative that al-Shabab has been on the wane since UN-backed African peacekeepers had pushed them out of Mogadishu and major towns in Somalia since 2011. Natznet Tesfay, head of the Africa country risk team for IHS Jane’s, said:

This attack allows the group to reinstate itself as a force to be reckoned with, and offset reports that the group no longer is relevant.

She suggested the Westgate assault was timed to coincide with the UNGA meeting that began Monday, putting the group at the top of any agenda on African security. Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential newsletter, said:

It’s very AQ-esque, like the 2008 attacks on luxury hotels in Mumbai, sending the message to the rich, the elite, the diplomats, that “You’re never safe, we can get to you.”

Tesfay said al-Shabab had launched a campaign to maintain its relevance and credibility following the internal power struggle, which culminated in June with gunbattles in the streets of the southern Somali town of Barawe. It was fueled in part, by ideological differences between those who oppose any international intervention in Somalia and want the focus to remain on that internal battle, and those Jihadis who believe in a wider conflict linked to AQ’s more global agenda. Four top al-Shabab commanders were killed in June, including two co-founders of the group, while its spiritual guide, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, fled for his life and was captured by Somali forces who have imprisoned him in Mogadishu. The infighting continues. Earlier this month, Alabama native Omar Hammami aka Omar al-Amriki was ambushed and killed by rivals in southern Somalia. Hammami had used social network sites to accuse al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane of being a dictator. He had been on the run since the June assassinations. Godane, whose nom de guerre is Mukhtar Abu Zubair, appears to be in firm control. It was Abu Zubair who pledged allegiance to AQ in 2012. Emmanuel Kisiangani, of the African Institute for Security Studies in Kenya, said:

This attack speaks about a group that is trying to internationalize its Jihad. Extremist hard-liners mostly trained in places like Afghanistan have succeeded in taking over the leadership.

Al-Shabab had been warning it would attack Kenya ever since Kenyan troops moved into Somalia in 2011 to take a leadership role in the African peacekeeping force and in pushing al-Shabab back into largely rural and impoverished areas, away from lucrative sources of income from illicit taxes and extortion. In retaliation for Ugandan troops fighting in the African force, al-Shabab sent suicide bombers to Kampala, the Ugandan capital, in Jul 2010, where they killed more than 70 people watching a World Cup final match at two restaurants popular with foreigners. Godane, who has a $7m bounty on his head, warned at the time that the attack was just the beginning.

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