Raising the Standard at UGA since 2013.

Clear and Present Terror

Ignore at your own peril. (photo: Anne Knight)

In 2011, in the midst of tabloid news about Prince William and Kate Middleton’s happy nuptials and Lindsay Lohan’s legal woes, Operation Linda Nchi, was occurring in the southern part of Somalia. On Oct. 16, 2011 Kenyan, Ethiopian and Somalian military forces invaded the region in pursuit of al-Shabaab militants, a sect of al-Qaeda operating exclusively in Africa and accused of kidnapping several Kenyan foreign aid workers. The result of this coordinated military operation was an Allied victory that temporarily damaged al-Shabaab and consequently integrated Kenyan forces into the U.N.-approved African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM).

Two years later, amid coverage of the sixty-fourth primetime Emmy Awards and a U.N. General Assembly Meeting on Sept. 21, an alarming story developed. News of football scores and the looming government shutdown were overtaken as media outlets began to report about a terrorist attack in a shopping mall in Kenya. At around noon, 16 gunmen entered the Westgate Shopping Mall and wreaked havoc upon Saturday shoppers. The situation soon escalated into a hostage crisis, at which point the international community finally started paying attention.

By mid-afternoon, the shooting’s body count had exceeded 50, and the militants remained inside the shopping center. At around that time, @HSMPROffice, the official Twitter account of al-Shabaab, tweeted the following:

 “What Kenyans are witnessing at #Westgate is retributive justice for crimes committed by their military, albeit largely miniscule in nature.”

—Al-Shabaab (@HSMPROffice)

 Succeeded by:

 “The #Westgate Warriors informed HSM Press that they’ve successfully repelled a joint Kenyan-Jewish offensive and eliminated 13 Kenyan forces.”

—Al-Shabaab (@HSMPROffice)

 Via the popular social media tool, al-Shabaab had once again forced its way to international media attention. The group’s choice of target was also chosen for maximum exposure: Westgate Mall had a reputation as a popular hangout for affluent Kenyans and expatriate foreigners.

While the group’s Twitter account was snuffed before long, but it would take far longer for Kenyan forces to kill the Shabaab extremists within the complex — the siege lasted four days, to be exact.

By Wednesday morning Kenyan forces, with assistance from a covert Israeli force, had tamed the crisis, freed the hostages and accounted for all sixteen Islamic extremists and their 68 dead victims. Ten nations mourned the tragic loss of their foreign nationals, including Kenya’s own television personality Ruhila Adatia-Sood.

Other than the obvious barbarity of unwarranted attacks upon a civilian population, what does a terrorist attack in Kenya mean for the international community? Al-Shabaab’s reemergence speaks to a trend of greater insurgency by Islamic extremists groups in Africa and the Middle East. This trend extends through Algeria, as evidenced by the 2013 Amenas hostage crisis, an upsurge in Malian terrorism, the 2012 Benghazi attacks and the significant increase in violence in Iraq.

With a renewed global terror alert and fewer drone strikes, coupled with the media’s obvious ambivalence toward these almost-daily attacks, it seems the United States has given up on its “War on Terror.” Al-Shabaab represents one of several factions of al-Qaeda operating in the region; other sects operate heavily in Mali, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq and, of course, Syria. For now, al-Shabaab and its partners run rampant throughout the region — and run minimal risk of retaliation.

The Westgate Mall attack should be not passed over. Even as the international community battles for an U.S.-Iranian nuclear deal and chemical weapons disarmament in Syria, these smaller incidents often represent much larger imminent global threats. As the United States shifts gears from combating terrorism toward larger diplomatic questions, it will only become easier for the likes of al-Shabaab to conduct another deadly attack on an unwitting civilian population.

Sarah Smith is a senior studying international affairs and history

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