A terrorist attack is unfolding in and around 14 Riverside Drive in Nairobi, Kenya, as explosions and gunfire have rocked the Dusit D2 Hotels and surrounding area. Somali terror group Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate, has claimed responsibility for the attack. Al-Shabaab is an al-Qaeda affiliate that once controlled much of Somalia before being defeated by international forces drawn from Somalia’s neighbors and the wider international community. Over time, Al-Shabaab has gained a reputation as being an especially violent organization: even Osama bin Laden initially rejected the group for its indiscriminate attacks against fellow Muslims in the East African region. The group has not only terrorized Somalia for years, but has also targeted nearby countries, including many attacks against neighboring Kenya.
Today’s attack is a grim reminder of al-Shabaab’s 2013 attack against the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, which killed 71 people and wounded hundreds more. The current attack also comes on the third anniversary of an attack by al-Shabaab on Kenyan military barracks in El-Adde, Somalia – the terror group massacred over 100 Kenyan soldiers in that battle. Overall, the group has killed hundreds of Kenyans (including over 100 university students during another attack in which Christians were targeted specifically) on top of the many thousands who have perished at is hands in Somalia. This number does not include Kenyans killed by al-Qaeda proper: it’s 1998 attack against the US embassy in Nairobi (simultaneous with a similar US embassy attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) remains the deadliest terror attack in Kenyan history (and al-Qaeda’s most deadly strike prior to Sept. 11, 2001) with over 200 killed. Although the main focus today has been on the Riverside attack and its immediate aftermath, reporters and citizens appearing on Kenyan television are beginning to question the Kenyan government for failing to stop attacks within the country.
Al-Shabaab’s attacks against Kenya have had a variety of motivations, including easy opportunity and high recruitment in Kenya due to porous borders between the two countries (Kenya is even home to an al-Shabaab affiliate group), retaliation for the Kenyan military’s 2011 intervention into the conflict in Somalia, and a desire to publicize the group and remain relevant. As al-Shabaab’s grip on Somalia has been loosened, some of its top leaders have defected to the political process, and it has fought with ISIS affiliated groups within parts of Somalia, al-Shabaab is increasingly desperate to reassert its reign of terror across East Africa. Reporters on Kenyan television are remaining self-critical concerning the types of information and images they broadcast, attempting to cover the story without fulfilling al-Shabaab’s goal of promoting itself through coverage of its attacks.
It is unclear how many people have been killed or wounded today or when the situation will be resolved; Kenyan news sources continue to offer live updates (see below). In any event, today’s attack demonstrates that the war against al-Shabaab is not yet over.