Kenya attack signals a new wave of terrorism

Kenyans and their government can feel lucky. They got away from a ruthless murderous assault with only 72 killed, including six security personnel and five militants, and little collateral damages.

The attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall could have been much more disastrous. The toll could have gone over hundreds. In 1998 on August 7, militants killed 224 and wounded over 5,000 in car bomb explosions outside US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Till date these two explosions are perhaps the largest terror attacks carried out by militants in Africa.

Yet, in its audacity and scale the Westgate attack is certainly one of the most ferocious in post 9/11 period. As an act of terrorism, this assault is certainly different from those we see happening every alternate day in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Nairobi mall attack is more than what its perpetrators claimed on Twitter. Al Shabab called the attack "retributive justice for crimes committed" by Kenya's military in Somalia. It is a "vicious and bloodthirsty strike at the soft, civilian underbelly" and an act of "waging a war on our modern, democratic way of life. Today, we are all Kenyans."

Westgate mall attack is an assail on civilisation.

Therefore, every single shopper killed at Westgate mall is much more than just personal tragedies of the bereaved families and individuals; the terror attack was an assault on the global civil society, its freedom and its right to free movement and to live without fear.

The strike did not only bring East Africa's most flourishing city down to its knees in grief, it brought the world down too. And when Kenyan government put its national flag at half mast the world too should have joined. It is not Kenya's national tragedy alone but for all of us across the globe. We, wherever we are, whoever we are, too are grieved and bereaved.

The Nairobi mall attack is indeed a heinous strike against all of us. And on this assertion we agree with Louise Branson, an author and a journalist. It is an atrocity carried out against the world. At least ten nations, from Ghana to China, are in mourning today.

We can pour out end number of adjectives to describe the Westgate attack from our lexicon and we can go for days calling it audacious, despicable, dastardly, heinous, murderous etc. But that would not make us even an iota safer. Neither will our disapproval of the assault dissuade terrorists. The world is no longer safe and as we move on the future does not look even a bit rosy.

Men with rifles and bombs are there everywhere. They will, with increasingly impunity, storm into any mall, any school, any office and any hotel and kill people. Savagery has become a part of modern human living. Instead of the shopping mall, the murderers could have easily taken over a school and killed hundreds of children.

The war on terror of George W. Bush and Tony Blair carried on by Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande has not made us any safer. For us, the common people, the world is fast turning into a huge death trap. We do not know when and where terror will strike and snuff our lives out.

If we leave Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan aside Africa, especially the vast swath stretching between Nairobi and Timbuktu, has now become the new battleground and cradle of terrorism. Mapping Africa's terrorism Yochi Dreazen and Elias Groll have clearly pointed out a disturbing new reality: the extremism that has long ravaged the Middle East and south Asia has now taken root in Africa as well, causing chaos and bloodshed across the continent.

Africa is fast radicalising. Al Qaeda's tentacles are spreading faster than imagined in the continent. Africa, in fact, offers Al Qaeda and extremism the right ground to survive and flourish. A compendium of studies compiled by African Counterterrorism Cooperation: Assessing Regional and Sub-regional Initiatives and edited by Andre Le Sage and published Potomac Books says, as transnational terrorism expands in several regions of Africa, it has yielded distinctive threats and vulnerabilities, demanding tailored responses. 

Over the past decade, it has seen a significant number of terrorist attacks and operations, both north and south of the Sahara. Many of these attacks have been led by, coordinated with, or purported to be in support of Al Qaeda, but others have been launched by African organisations.

A new wave of Salafism and other Puritanism is now sweeping across north and central Africa, especially in Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger and in other nations in Sahel region. In the Horn of Africa, the situation is particularly worrying. Even in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and other countries in the continent the scourge has been found to be growing.

Africa in general has failed to offer opportunities to the moderates for political participation. It has also failed to empower them which could have perhaps counter balanced and 'delegitimised' the uninterrupted growth and sustenance of bigotry and extremism. This political and social vacuum only helped Al Qaeda to spread its network, consolidate its position and enhanced its appeal in the continent.

Al Shabab, which has claimed responsibility of the Westgate attack, is only a product of this vacuum. After almost two years in hibernation the outfit is back in global discourse.

But that isn't cause of our worry. The cause is a fear that Nairobi mall attack could signal new rise of terrorism in Africa, encourage other African outfits like Boko Haram and others to undertake more daring attacks.

Proliferation of violence and extremism in Africa are now on the cards.
The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman.


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