Monday morning links

23 September 2013, 0207 EDT

  • The international news continues to be dominated by Saturday’s terrorist attack at Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The coverage of the attacks in most major newspapers has been excellent (and peppered with first-person reflections) due to the large number of reporters and photojournalists who are based in Nairobi. Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility via Twitter, and Twitter struggled to deactivate its feeds. The immediate demand was the withdrawal of Kenyan troops from Somalia, where they have been assisting AU forces and the interim Somali government since October 2011. More discussion after the jump.
  • Taliban suicide bombers attacked a Christian church in Peshawar yesterday, killing at least 78. It’s the most deadly attack in the history of Pakistan’s Christian community. In Nigeria, government officials announced that Islamist group Boko Haram was responsible for 159 deaths in Borno State, one of the three northeastern states currently under a state of emergency. Boko Haram also allegedly launched a major attack in the capital, Abuja, but eyewitnesses claim that alleged Boko fighters were unarmed squatters.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel scored a huge victory in elections yesterday. The Christian Democrats’ 42 percent of the vote was the strongest conservative showing in over 20 years. There’s some background on the election at the Monkey Cage.
  • Regarding the Westgate attack in Nairobi, there’s a fair amount of speculation out there. CNN reported that an Al-Shabaab twitter account released a list of the attackers, implicating Americans and other Western nationals. Journalists based in the region — those with contacts within the organization — have dismissed the list as fake. But it’s very plausible that foreign nationals will pop up amongst the Westgate attackers, given Al-Shabaab’s past track record of recruiting Americans and Brits of Somali descent. … Rumors have also been circulating that a female attacker – who at times appeared to be in a leadership position — may be Samantha Lewthwaite, “white widow” of 7/7 bomber Germaine Lindsey. Earlier this summer, Lewthwaite was believed to be in Yemen, but the killing of one of her close colleagues in Somalia earlier this month places her in direct proximity to al-Shabaab.
  • In the world of analysis, Juan Cole and  Somalia expert Ken Menkhaus both see the Westgate attacks as the last gasp of a weakening organization, which has lost the majority of its territory and revenue streams over the past year. Other commentators point toward struggles within Al-Shabaab or the increasing importance of Kenya to the organization’s strategic aims.
  • In other news, John McCain made a direct appeal to the Russian people in Pravda; the editorial largely consisted of attacks on Putin’s democratic credentials. Putin’s September 11th editorial in the New York Times was far savvier.
  • There are other great things I read this week, but I struggle to remember any of them right now. And you’ll have to forgive the above if it’s a bit stale by the time you read it.  It’s 1:30am in Washington, 8:30 in Nairobi, and I simply can’t face revisiting Westgate in the morning. Right now, there are still terrorists holed up in the Nakumatt. I want to try to convey how strange this feels. The mall isn’t a surprising target. If you wanted to bring the costs of foreign military operations home to Kenya’s great and good, this is how you would do it. It’s a central social institution for expats, for the Kenyan middle class, for those who aspire to be middle class. It’s the kind of place where President Kenyatta’s nephew would hang out (he died in the attack). And, yes, it’s been on the running list of possible soft targets in Nairobi for the past few years (and, yes, that’s partly because it’s Israeli-owned) … but I haven’t known many people who’ve stayed away. Westgate is just too exceedingly normal. They put out bouncy castles for children; you can pay for your groceries with credit cards; there’s parking. And as you’ve seen in the sometimes-gruesome photos of the past few days, it’s a place of coin-operated riding animals, Hollywood blockbusters, and takeaway cup paraphernalia. I have no larger point here, as terrorism is precisely intended to throw up these kinds of oppositions, but it’s just very strange and very sad. And, thus, no further linkage.