04 February 2019

The Nairobi attack- Learned lessons?

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Image source: Mediafax

In the afternoon of 15JAN2018, five terrorists attacked the hotel complex DusitD2, from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. 21 people were killed in the attack, including an American citizen, survivor of the terrorist attacks from 9/11, and a British one. The Somali Islamic group Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaida affiliated, says that they attacked the hotel complex as a response to US president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Kenyan government states that the intervention was prompt, which is an improvement of the response capacity for attacks committed over some civil/touristic objectives. “This intervention was treated a lot better, comparing with the attack from 2013, over the Westgate mall”, stated Joseph Mucheru, the Kenyan Minister of Intelligence.

Having in mid that the Kenyan force authorities needed around 20 hours, and the information provided to media was limited or even contradictory, the Kenyan Minister of Intelligence statement is partially true. Yet, we can ask ourselves if the reforms adopted by the Kenyan authorities for terrorism combating are sufficient or it is necessary an additional effort.

On 18th of January, the Kenyan authorities retained, for 30 days, 5 suspects accused for supporting the attackers and are still looking for a woman who would have transported weaponry from Kiunga (at the Somali-Kenyan border) to Nairobi, to support to attackers.

In the afternoon of 15JAN2018, five terrorists attacked the hotel complex DusitD2, from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

The attack started by killing the security personnel from hotel complex’s front door, and then blowing two vehicles stationed on the western side of the same hotel complex. Then, the attackers entered in the hall by the front door where one of them blew himself up, according to the security camera footage inside of the hotel complex. After the explosion, the attackers started the fire against the tourists. The Kenyan authorities came quickly and focused on evacuating the tourists and the employees of the hotel complex.

The attack was asserted by the Islamic terrorist group Al-Shabaab, as a response to American president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.


Al-Shabaab is a jihadist group, founded in 2006, affiliated to Al-Qaida. The group’s initial objective was to eliminate the foreign influences from Somalia and to create an Islamic state. The climax of group’s combative power was reached between 2008-2010, when Al-Shabaab was controlling country’s capital, an important area of capital’s West and South, as well as Merca and Kismayo ports.

The group had a well-established hierarchy and, despite the ideological and military differences between the constitutive groups. The group unity was guaranteed by its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, known also as Mukhtar Abu Zubair. He was also the one ruling when it took place the attack over the Westgate mall from Nairobi, which ended with 71 dead people, among them four attackers too.

After Godane’s death, the group got divided due to the different perspectives regarding the ideology to be followed and the methods of action. This is the possible explanation of the following attacks, the majority executed in Somalia (the attack over a Somali military base, ended with 100 dead militaries) and the attack (2015) over the Garissa University Campus (North-East of Kenya), ended with 148 victims. The 2015 attack reveals also the possibility for a part of the group, hailed from Kenya, to be back home, in the North-East area, after Al-Shabaab’s leader death, in 2014.

Comparing with the 2013 attack over the Westgate mall, the reason Al-Shabaab have presented now seems meaningless, given that the DusitD2 hotel complex is part of the Thai hospitality company Dusit International’s, and the victims were mainly Kenyan citizens. This is not the first time the group is presenting unsustainable reasons for the public opinion for their actions. Hence, for the attack over the Westgate mall, the leader at that time said that the action was a consequence of an order received from Al-Qaida to oppose the Crusade launched by Christians.

Why Kenya?

Al-Shabaab started to attack targets outside the Somali territory in 2007, and the first attack on the Kenyan territory took place in 2008. The Nairobi government responded with force to this challenge, by launching an offensive in 2011, in the South area of Somalia’s territory, in order to create a buffer zone to prevent terrorist elements’ infiltration on the Kenyan territory. In the following year (2012), Kenya joined the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Hence, the first reason why Kenya is Al-Shabaab’s target is connected with the entry/invasion of the Kenyan armed forces on the Somali territory and the participation to AMISOM.

The second reason is related to costs-benefits. Kenya has a quite free media with an international visibility (comparing with other East African states), which can easily make public Al-Shabaab’s “accomplishments”. With this exposure, Al-Shabaab aims to attract funds and human resources. Another reason could be that part of Al-Shabaab’s members (some from the highest level) are Kenyans and know pretty well the local conditions.

Also, it could be connected to the opportunities offered by the lack of a solid governance and the current corruption in the local administration. The last reason is the still high porosity of the 680 km length border between Somalia and Kenya.

Kenya’s options

Firstly, the Kenyan authorities must void the past mistakes, materialized through force actions and mass arrests among the Muslim population and the Somali ethnics. Such actions have degraded the security situation in Kenya even more.

A second option could be to strengthening border’s control, fortified with the exposure of Kenyan state’s actions capacities and the intensification of Al-Shabaab’s combat actions across the AMISOM mission.

Lastly, Kenya must re-evaluate its political and military role in Somalia, because regardless of its efforts it cannot defeat Al-Shabaab without the support of the Somali Federal Government.


The sad truth is that coordinated and complex attacks, executed by strongly motivated attackers over some “easy” targets are truly difficult to predict and combat, regardless of the training level and security forces’ equipment. By its nature, the “easy” targets are touristic and commercial objectives, dedicated to relaxation. This is asking for discrete prevention and combat measures of terrorism, which are not always to efficient.

From this point of view, the tourism industry was and will continue to be one of the things to attract attackers.

Despite the official reason, with this attack, the Al-Shabaab group wanted to show its operational and logistic capabilities against its rival group, the Islamic State in Somalia, that they have “declared war” on (December 2018).

At the same time, with this exposure and calling on Jerusalem’s recognition at Israel’s capital, Al-Shabaab wants, first of all, to attract funds from the supporters of the Islamic direction, given that the last funding received from Al-Qaida was in 2015.

From the operational point of view, it can be estimated that the actions taken after the 2013 attack, the Kenyan authorities have improve the combating terrorism capabilities. The intervention of the special forces across the police was quicker, it was initially focused on evacuating people to reduce the human loses and then on identifying and eliminating the attackers.  Of course, the total time of the intervention until declaring the hotel complex ”clean” remained high, which allow to state that the effort made by the Kenyan authorities to prevent and combat terrorism must be continued.