The traumatic attack on the West Gate Mall; situated in Nairobi, Kenya; ‎has the characteristics of many Al-Qaeda linked operations. Whilst responsibility for the terrorist attack has been claimed by Al-Shabaab the modus operandi fits the 3 objectives outlined by Ayman Al-Zawahiri. In a message Al-Zawahiri stated that a terrorist attack needs to be against a western target where hostages are taken and Muslim casualties are reduced to a minimum.

In the attack and subsequent hostage taking several Al-Shabaab terrorists not only killed westerners (3 British, 2 Canadian, 2 French nationals), but also killed shoppers who did not know the name of Mohammed’s mother (Aminah bint Wahb). Al-Shabaab generally operates in Somalia, but has formed relationships with Al-Hijra, a Kenyan terrorist group; as well as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; and the government of Eritrea which supports the terrorist organization in its actions against Ethiopia.

So far, the death toll is 68 with more than 175 people injured. The death toll is likely to increase as the siege continues.
This terrorist attack by Al-Shabaab is the most recent in a series of attacks that have targeted the Kenyan population over the past 2 years.

Since 2011, owing to Kenya’s involvement in the invasion of Somalia, several terrorist operations including suicide bombings, kidnappings and attacks on civil and maritime vessels have been identified.  In March 2012, Al-Shabaab released a British hostage, although the terrorist group had been responsible for several other kidnappings towards the end of 2011.  During the same year, a grenade attack on a night club in downtown Nairobi was followed up by another grenade attack in March 2012 when a bus station in Nairobi was targeted.  This trend has continued with the recent bombing of a complex of small shops on Moi Avenue, Nairobi.  Well placed sources have indicated that this bombing campaign in the capital will likely intensify as long as the Kenyan armed forces remain in Somalia.

From a natural disaster perspective, the drought affecting the Horn of Africa is causing mass migration of people to move across Kenya’s porous borders each week.  The impact of these displaced persons and the availability of weapons in the area, have prompted an increase in crime both petty and violent.  As such, the threat of sectarian violence has increased and has manifested itself in a range of criminal activities motivated by political and economic forces.  The armed assault on the west gate mall is simply as continuation of the attacks pledged by Al-Shabaab over the past two years.

During our heat courses we provide political risk analysis of those African countries which our course attendees may be visiting.

Kenya has been a common country of interest because its frenetic economic activity and growth rate is marred by the threat of sectarian violence- on the coast on Mombasa; in the north near lake tourcana; and in the capital. Although the west gate mall attack involved hand guns and assault rifles, Al-Shabaab’s preferred weapon of terror is the hand grenade.

Here are the 5 actions for surviving a grenade attacks:

Whilst it is difficult to extract the safety pin from a grenade, once out, the grenade is not armed until the handle has been released.

  1. Owing to the small explosive charge in a hand grenade, the lethal radius of the explosion is about 12 metres. The noise is deafening and you should put your fingers in your ears and keep your mouth closed to counteract the pressure.
  2. The fuse length of a grenade can be adjusted by twisting the knob at the bottom of the device.  The default setting for most grenades is 5 seconds which means that you have a couple of seconds to look around, identify cover and dive behind it before the grenade explodes. If the grenade explodes in mid-air, the blast will throw out small pieces of metal in a more or less spherical direction and with more or less equal density.
  3. If the grenade explodes on the ground, the blast will be more cone-shaped.  The danger from the shrapnel is reduced with distance.
  4. The most effective countermeasure against a grenade attack is to reduce your surface area exposed to the blast.  Therefore, lie on your stomach, protect your head and cross your feet with your legs pointing towards the grenade.
  5. Following any terrorist incident with significant casualties and damage to buildings, the panic caused will prompt people to flood the emergency lines with calls and over-load cell phone service providers.

Remember however that Email and SMSs can often get through when telephone calls cannot. Consider an out of town contact whom your family can call or email to check in should a terrorist incident occur. Be sure that every member of your family knows the reporting number. Also, agree upon a per-arranged meeting place away from your home and make this rendezvous (RV) a location that scattered family members can meet. All your family members should know how to get to this RV; even if there is no public transport.

During our heat course we highlight the scenarios faced by individuals following a terrorist attack and what Immediate Action Drills need to be followed.