September 21, 2013: Westgate shopping mall attack in Kenya

Four members of the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab were able to sustain an 80-hour siege at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall killing 67 Kenyans.

Until recently a mall was a place to hang out: on this day in 2013 it became a place to die.

NAIROBI, KENYA – Ah, the shopping mall. Is there anything more stereotypically representative of modern life in the West? Large, clean, indoor spaces! Food courts! And the stores, oh the stores full of items we may think we want but don’t really.

The mall has become so ubiquitous and glitzy – think of the West Edmonton Mall, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, and even a plan by the Ghermezians (who built the two monstrosities just listed) to build an even bigger one in New Jersey called ‘The American Dream’, even though the Ghermezians are Canadian! – that it has also been parodised. I remember a particularly bad zombie film from 2004 (Dawn of the Dead) where the walking dead all flock to a local mall as that was what they were most familiar with when they were alive. Sad.

There are of course other reasons not to like the mall. It takes away from small business. Everyone drives there upping greenhouse gas output. It’s just so over the top. Still, we flock to them. What we are looking for is a pleasant experience – or just to get out of the cold in a Canadian winter! What we neither expect nor want is a terrorist attack.

And yet that is exactly what happened in Kenya on this day in 2013.

Four terrorists from Somalia’s Al Shabaab group stormed the Westgate Shopping Mall, an upscale facility in Nairobi, and went on a killing rampage that lasted 80 hours. In all at least 67 people were killed before Kenyan security forces could bring the slaughter to an end with the deaths of all the assailants. In the aftermath several questions were asked about Kenya’s ability to handle events of this nature.

Al Shabaab probably chose to hit Kenya because of that nation’s contribution to African Union (AU) forces on counter terrorism operations in Somalia. The group has carried out many attacks in the country and has a bit of a presence in the northeast, near the Somali border.

I do not like malls for many reasons. It looks like I have one more.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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