Kenya (MNN/ODM) – The Somali based al-Qaida linked Al-Shabaab militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack at the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi that left over 60 dead and at least 175 injured.
Kenya’s military chief was quoted as saying that because the gunmen came from around the world, “We are fighting global terrorism here.” Western powers have been alarmed by a spread of al Qaeda-linked violence across Africa, from Nigeria and Mali in the west, though Algeria and Libya in the north to Somalia and now Kenya in the east.
On Monday, security forces fought for control of the four-story building from the terrorists. A spokesman for al-Shabab reportedly threatened to kill hostages if Kenyan security forces stormed the mall. As a result, the death toll is expected to rise.
The nightmare began around noon (local time) on Saturday. A group of ten to fifteen heavily armed masked militants arrived in cars at the mall, blocked several entrances and then stormed the building. They threw grenades and tear gas and indiscriminately shot at fleeing crowds.
Jerry Dykstra, a spokesman for Open Doors USA says, the terror group clearly marked non-Muslims for murder. “They asked them if they could read the sentence in Arabic, and if they could, they were reportedly released, if they couldn’t, they were shot.” Witnesses told media they heard the attackers tell Muslims to run away. In fact, Al-Shabaab tweeted, “All Muslims were escorted out before the attack”.
About an hour into the siege security forces entered the building and were joined later by
Special Forces. The security forces rescued at least 1,000 people over several hours. Those who were rescued exited the building in a straight line with arms raised.
As to the reason for the attack, Dykstra explained, “Two years ago, Kenya sent troops into Somalia because there were a lot of border skirmishes between the two groups, the military of Kenya and al Shabaab. So, they’re retaliating for the Kenya government sending troops into Somalia.”
Westgate shopping center is popular among the expatriate community of Nairobi and among tourists. It is owned by an Israeli-national. The owner apparently received terror threats before and says he had put in place various security measures. A tweet from an account linked to Al-Shabaab (which has since been pulled down) read, “It is going to be a long ordeal at Westgate.” They also said, “There will be no negotiations whatsoever at #Westgate.”
However, if the skirmish they’re avenging was military, why did the terror group choose a soft target for retaliation? Two reasons: 1) to terrorize a general populace, 2) to make a point about Islam. Specifically, Dykstra says, “Many of the militants think that all people from the West are Christians. In their minds, these people that were being targeted, were probably Christians.”
A somber President Uhuru Kenyatta said he lost a nephew and the man’s fiancé in what he called the “cowardly act.” “The despicable perpetrators of this cowardly act hoped to intimidate, divide and cause despondency among Kenyans. They would like us to retreat into a closed, fearful and fractured society where trust, unity and enterprise are difficult to muster. An open and united country is a threat to evil doers everywhere. With our values of solidarity and love for our homeland, we fought proudly and bravely to secure the freedom to lead our lives as we choose. Our choice is codified in our Constitution.”
Open Doors (OD) staff reported that the situation across the capital and the country remains tense. The good news: no staff members were affected by the attack. However, Dykstra adds, “One of the workers there says that we need to join in prayer for Kenya as the country comes to terms with this horrific attack. Pray for the loved ones and the victims, and the families.”
The brazen assault shows one thing: “The violence against Christians is increasing. That’s not only from al-Shabaab, but there’s also a real tension between Christians and Muslims in the northern part of the country and the coastal part.”
Dykstra explains that the concern is over the emerging pattern for Kenya. “Kenya, over the years, has been a pretty stable country. It’s very troubling to see the level of violence increasing against Christian churches and there is a real Islamist drive to get Kenya under the African ‘House of Islam’.” ‘Islamic extremism’ is an important source of hostility against Christians in Kenya. ‘Tribal antagonism’ is also an upcoming persecution dynamic.
As these trends have increased, so has Kenya’s appearance on the World Watch List. It is currently ranked 40th on the Open Doors persecution index. According to the research, the increasing level of violence against Christians or churches is frequently connected to al-Shabaab or al-Shabaab-inspired extremist groups.
• Pray for a safe release of the hostages.
• Pray for comfort for the families who have lost loved ones in the attack.
• Pray for good medical care and healing for the injured.
• Pray for restored security. Stability in Kenya is extremely important for the entire region.
• Pray that Christians will have the grace to respond to this incident with the love of Christ.