The world is appalled at the terrorist attack at Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya that has left at least 59 dead and 150 wounded, including close members of the country’s leader.
But this attack isn’t just about Kenya. The Al-Qaeda affiliate responsible, Al-Shabaab, has succeeded in recruiting dozens of Americans and has smuggled people into the U.S.
Al-Shabaab is based in Somalia. At one point, Somalia was on the verge of making itself the first country in history to be directly run by Al-Qaeda. This weekend’s attack in Nairobi is retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention against al-Shabaab in Somalia.
One of the reasons that the mall may have been chosen is because it has an Israeli-owned café. Of course, malls are hard to defend, and it was an easy target. Witnesses say that the al-Shabaab terrorists, including a female, permitted Muslim hostages to leave
The atrocity is an example of what al-Shabaab is capable of in America. Its main focus is on jihad in Somalia only for now. The first two American suicide bombers gave up their lives in Somalia after being recruited by this group.
Over 40 Americans, mostly Somali-Americans, have joined al-Shabaab’s ranks. In 2008, Patrick Poole reported on the extensive Islamist Somali infrastructure in the U.S:
“[T]here exists an active recruiting and transportation network in the U.S., including Minneapolis, for Somali-run terrorist training camps, many of which have recently reopened. In many instances, these same Somali leaders purporting ignorance and innocence for the local media are not only aware of these recruiting operations, but have actively participated in them,” he wrote.
The terrorist group and other Somali terrorists have been exploiting the poorly-guarded Mexican border.
In February 2010, a Virginia man named Anthony Joseph Tracy was arrested because of his close links to Al-Shabaab. By then, he had smuggled over 270 Somalis into the country through Mexico. The identities and locations of very few were known.
The Mexican government has also confirmed that al-Shabaab is taking advantage of the border. Its police have arrested and released members of al-Shabaab on their way to the U.S. before.
Another Somali jihadist group doing this same thing is Al-Ittihad Al-Islami. A Somali in San Antonio, Texas was arrested in March 2008 on immigration charges. From June 2006 to March 2008, he earned at least $3,000 for every single person he snuck across the border, making up to $75,000 in a single day.
He confirmed that he knew exactly what he was doing when he brought Al-Ittihad Al-Islami members into the U.S. His sentencing memo said “he believed they would fight against the U.S. if the jihad moved from overseas locations to the U.S. mainland.”
Al-Shabaab receives aid from Eritrea, a neighboring country run by a dictator who is a self-proclaimed Christian (but has up to 3,000 Christians imprisoned). There are also indications that it gets secret help from Sudan and Iran.
If a state sponsor is involved in this attack in Kenya, Eritrea is the most likely culprit. Its embassy in Nairobi long funded al-Shabaab to the tune of $75,000 per month. Eritrea also directly planned a massive terrorist attack in Ethiopia in January 2011 that targeted the African Union Summit. African Union forces are currently battling al-Shabaab in Somalia.
The threat has from al-Shabaab has been downplayed somewhat since Kenya forces seized the Kismayo port from the group in October 2012 that had been earning it $35-50 million each year. Al-Shabaab forces have also been forced to retreat from areas it held in southern and central Somalia.
However, a UN report in July that confirmed ongoing Eritrean support for Al-Shabaab stated, “"The military strength of al-Shabaab, with an approximately 5,000-strong force, remains arguably intact in terms of operational readiness, chain of command, discipline and communications ability.”
“By avoiding direct military confrontation, it has preserved the core of its fighting force and resources,” the UN says.
Al-Shabaab sustains itself financially by doing business with pirates, collecting fees at checkpoints for the shipment of goods, donations and all kinds of extortion. It also makes money from selling sugar using businessmen in Dubai.
As many as 10,000 bags of sugar are smuggled into Kenya every day, making it a major black market industry. The UN believes al-Shabaab makes $25 million annually with the illegal sale of charcoal, as well.
Luckily, it does not appear that al-Shabaab has the support of many Somalis, hence why it has to recruit from America and Europe. Al-Shabaab is vicious, doing things like destroying $745,000 worth of humanitarian aid sent from the United Kingdom. Children under the age of 10 have been found in al-Shabaab-linked schools held against their will with their legs chained together.
Recognizing the public relations problems it has created for itself, al-Shabaab has trying to present itself as a force for security and protection from the West and its evil anti-Islamic influences. It has posted (probably staged) photos online purporting to show that it’s giving food and money to the poor.
The world needs to be more than heartbroken about what took place in Kenya. It has to be smart and recognize that the threat posed by al-Shabaab and Islamist terrorists everywhere and hold their state sponsors, like Eritrea, accountable.