Over five years ago, terrorists from the Somalia-based radical Islamist group al-Shabaab massacred 67 people in a fashionable shopping mall in Nairobi. Today the group has seized a luxury hotel in Kenya’s capital, less than two miles from the Westgate Mall, as security forces attempt to flush them out. An unknown number of people have already been killed, with one witness relating that the scene looks like “minced meat all over.”
The BBC picked up the story when its meaning was still ambiguous:
NBC’s brief video coverage makes the purpose seem more clear, a purpose later confirmed by the terrorist group itself:
A blast and heavy gunfire sent workers fleeing from an upscale hotel and office complex in Kenya's capital of Nairobi.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 15, 2019
Several vehicles burned. People were rushed, some carried, from the scene. At least one was on a stretcher. Some ducked behind cars, screaming. Others appeared to take cover behind fountains and other features at the lush complex, which includes the DusitD2 hotel, along with bars, restaurants, banks and offices.
“It is terrible. What I have seen is terrible. I have seen a human as I ran out and there is what looks like minced meat all over,” said a man who ran from the scene, Charles Njenga.
Kenya’s national police chief, Joseph Boinnet, said that it appeared to be a terror attack.
“We are aware that armed criminals are holing up in the hotel and special forces are now currently flushing them out,” Boinnet said. He did not confirm any deaths and did not say how many were wounded.
The police made it clear that not only are they treating like a terror attack, they’re confirming it:
Police wishes to confirm that there has been an attack incident along 14 Riverside Drive. The area has since been cordoned off and motorists are advised to use alternative routes to facilitate smooth operations of the Police.
More information to follow.
— National Police Service-Kenya (@NPSOfficial_KE) January 15, 2019
AFP reports that the attack targeted the entire complex, which included office space for international businesses:
A huge blast followed by a gun battle rocked an upmarket hotel and office complex in Nairobi on Tuesday, causing casualties, in an attack claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab Islamist group.
The explosion at the DusitD2 compound, which includes a 101-room hotel, restaurant and several office buildings housing local and international companies, was heard from AFP’s bureau some five kilometres (three miles) away. …
An AFP reporter saw a bomb disposal squad blow up a car which they said had been used by the attackers to arrive at the complex.
Flames and plumes of black smoke billowed into the sky from the parking lot where several cars where ablaze. Scores of people fled the scene, some of them injured.
It might take quite a while to flush out the terrorists inside the complex. The Westgate Mall attack went on for a few days before finally coming to an end. Three of the perpetrators were in court this week on charges resulting from the siege, which may (or may not) have precipitated this attack. It will take a long while to fully comprehend the attack even if they manage to neutralize the attackers. We’ll keep up with developments as they warrant; as of publication time, there has been no official tally of casualties, but it appears that several people have been killed from witness reports in the media.
However, it’s worth noting that this comes not long after the US decided to scale back its counter-terrorism operations in Somalia. The administration has assessed that al-Shabaab still presents a regional threat but not to the US, but some questioned earlier this month whether that would leave a dangerous vacuum behind in which al-Shabaab and other radical Islamist terror networks could reconstitute themselves. Perhaps the better question is whether we have correctly assessed their current capabilities, and whether we have been effective in reducing the threat they pose to us as well. This coordinated and well-executed attack seems to indicate that a second look is warranted.