The logic of terrorism is violent political theatre ― the aim is not just to inflict harm but to be widely noticed inflicting harm.
From this perspective, the Somali militia al Shabaab’s September 21 seizure of the upmarket Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and massacre of at least 61 hostages, was a successful act of terrorism.
But while al Shabaab successfully dominated world headlines with their brutal attack, the media has almost entirely ignored the context: the Western-backed occupation of Somalia by Kenya, Uganda and Burundi.
The BBC said on September 27 that al Shabaab members were able to lease a shop inside the mall using fake ID, which they used to stockpile weapons and ammunition.
Survivors reported 10-to-15 attackers, wearing black commando-style outfits and balaclavas, stormed the mall on September 21 and held off Kenyan security forces (assisted by Israeli “advisers”) until September 24. They were armed with assault rifles, high calibre machineguns and grenades.
Hostages were killed indiscriminately, although survivors’ accounts suggest some attempts were made to separate and release Muslims.
Kenyan broadcaster Capital FM reported on September 27 that Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku put the death toll at 61 civilians, six security force members and five terrorists. Lenku denied Red Cross reports that a further 61 civilians were unaccounted for.