Bottom Line: Somalia-based al-Shabaab radical Islamist group has claimed responsibility for the 21 September attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall. This indicates a further weakening of the group in Somalia and is a precursor to potentially more attacks of reciprocity as the group struggles to re-position itself.
Analysis: The al-Shabaab siege on the Westgate mall in Kenya’s capital left 72 dead and some 200 injured. Five militants were among the dead. More than 30 people have been killed in bomb and grenade attacks launched by al-Shabaab since Kenya deployed troops to Somalia to quash them in October 2011. The 21 September attack on the Westgate mall represents a sharp escalation of al-Shabaab’s agenda, and we are likely to see more of this, as long as Kenya refuses to withdraw its troops from Somalia. We also expect an increase in kidnappings in Kenya to further pressure a withdrawal. Al-Shabaab has been severely weakened in Somali largely by Kenyan forces and its capabilities now are in line with attacks like that on the mall, and kidnappings, with help from plentiful al-Shabaab sympathizers in Kenya.
Recommendation: The group could seek to focus on kidnappings of Western oil workers—because this sector is most important to energy-hub aspirant Kenya at this time, and successful kidnappings of this nature would raise the stakes for Kenya in terms of foreign investor confidence. What will be viewed as a “successful” attack by al-Shabaab and sympathizers in Kenya—now emboldened--will likely be followed by an attack of a similar or larger scale to maintain the momentum. Al-Shabaab is desperate, but desperation is dangerous, and attacks of this nature are more difficult to predict and make security a challenge.