Kenyan authorities pledged to end by Sunday the deadly assault by militant Islamists at one of Nairobi’s most attractive malls. By Monday afternoon, black smoke poured from the building, the attackers remaining holed up, at least a handful of hostages still in their grasp. The difficulty ending the episode goes to the size, firepower and brazenness of the assault, the dozens of innocent civilians dead and many more wounded bringing to mind the al-Qaida attack on the American embassy there 15 years ago.
Al Shabab, a militant group in Somalia, has claimed responsibility. The thinking has been that the outfit had been put far back on its heels, driven from cities, scattered to the countryside, by forces from the African Union and elsewhere in Africa. What al Shabab long has shown is a capacity to kill, via the instruments of roadside bombs and suicide missions, much Somali blood on its hands.
The attack in Nairobi reinforces the impression that the group now looks increasingly to expand its range, likely with support from the franchises of al-Qaida that remain active. Kenya is one of the countries that has contributed military forces to putting down the al Shabab insurgency in Somalia. So the attack has all the appearance of payback, striking deep in the capital city, at the Westgate mall, where Kenyans and visitors from other countries gather and feel secure.
Kenya, for all of its internal turmoil, including a disputed 2007 election rocked by violence, has been part of the network seeking to stem the terrorism of Islamic extremists. Now Nairobi has been hit again, and what has resonated immediately and most powerfully are the shattered lives, so many coming together, sharing time, enjoying the day, and then the horrifying arrives, many never to go home, many never to be the same.