Beyond the Nairobi Massacre

NAIROBI – Kenya heaved a collective sigh of relief when the four-day siege at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall finally ended. Yet the aftermath of the massacre is in many ways turning out to be as dramatic – and grisly – as the event itself.

The sophistication of the plot has stunned investigators. The attackers – members of the Somali Islamist extremist group al-Shabaab – spent weeks reconnoitering the site. They knew every exit and safe haven, and they appear to have leased a shop where they pre-positioned ammunition, explosives, and heavy weaponry. Their use of social media was a case study in digital virtuosity.

The attackers issued a clear demand: Kenya must withdraw the forces that it deployed two years ago as part of an international effort to drive al-Shabaab out of Somalia and return the country to government rule and a semblance of normal life. Their strike, they said, was intended chiefly as a warning to Kenya’s government: change your policy, or else. The attackers also made a great show of telling the world that they had taken special care to safeguard the lives of fellow Muslims during the assault.

Tell that to a colleague here in Nairobi who was trapped in the mall for five hours as gunfire echoed all around. She emerged unharmed to find that two members of her family were dead and a third wounded. The survivor was a nine-year-old boy, shot in the hip. As he lay bleeding, terrorists trained their guns on his mother and 15-year-old sister.