Jeremy Scahill: Al-Shabab’s Nairobi Mall Rampage Tied to “Disastrous” U.S. Meddling in Somalia


(Democracy Now!, 25 September 2013)

Kenya has begun three days of mourning for at least 67 people killed in the siege of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. The death count could still rise if more bodies are found in the rubble of the mall’s three floors. The Somali militant group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it retaliation for Kenyan military intervention in Somalia. We’re joined by independent journalist Jeremy Scahill, who reported from both Kenya and Somalia for his recent book and film, “Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield.” Scahill says the Bush administration’s decision to back Ethiopia’s overthrow of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union in 2006 helped fuel al-Shabab’s growth into the dominant militant group that it is today: “Al-Shabab was largely a non-player in Somalia and al-Qaeda had almost no presence there. The U.S., by backing [Somali] warlords and overthrowing the Islamic Courts Union, made the very force they claimed to be trying to fight.”

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Kenya, which has begun three days of mourning for at least 67 people who were killed in the siege of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. The Somali militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a coordinated attack. The death count could still rise if more hostages and their attackers are found buried in the rubble of the mall’s three floors that collapsed. On Tuesday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta declared final victory four days after the attack began.

PRESIDENT UHURU KENYATTA: Ladies and gentlemen, as I had vowed earlier, we have ashamed and defeated our attackers. That part of our task has been completed by our multi-agency security team. Five terrorists were killed with gunfire. Eleven suspects are in custody in connection with the attack. Intelligence reports had suggested that a British woman and two or three American citizens may have been involved in the attack. We cannot confirm the details at present, but forensic experts are working to ascertain the nationalities of the terrorists.

AMY GOODMAN: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Since the attack on the Westgate Mall, survivors have started to share their accounts of what happened. This is Aleem Manji, who, along with his wife, was helping to run a children’s cooking competition at the mall before the attackers struck. Aleem Manji

ALEEM MANJI: He turned and he said you did not spare our women and children, why should we spare yours? And his colleague opened fire. They weren’t shooting to scare. They were shooting to kill. They aimed low at where the people were crouching and they just opened fire, completely and absolutely. This is not Islam. Islam is something all else altogether. Islam is peace. Islam is about togetherness, humanity. What I saw there was not Islam. If you ever, ever think for a minute that those people represent us, they don’t, they never will, and please don’t let them win by thinking it.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the victims in the attack on the mall in Nairobi. The Somali militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter. In a series of messages, the group described the assault on the mall as revenge for Kenya sending troops into Somalia in 2011. To talk more about the situation there we are joined by Jeremy Scahill, National Security Correspondent for The Nation, producer and writer of the documentary film and book “Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield.” He has spent time in both Kenya and Somalia while working on “Dirty Wars.” Jeremy Scahill, welcome back to Democracy Now!. It’s great to have you here. Can you talk about what’s happened there?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right now, there is not just one al-Shabaab. There has been a real fracture within the organization, and a few weeks ago the most high-profile American jihadist that was operating with al-Shabaab, Omar Hammami, who is from Alabama, and was sort of like a rapper and propagandist for al-Shabaab, was killed. And it appears he was killed by a rival faction of the group. I think part of what we are seeing is that the section of Shabaab that is more aligned with the global vision of what was Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network and Ayman al-Zawahiri’s mission, is trying to make a mark for itself and I think that it’s a group that is very much in trouble internally in Somalia and I think it is trying to project that it has a more globalist, jihadist agenda. So, this attack on the Westgate Mall, I think was indicative of the fact that there are multiple versions of al-Shabaab. One part al-Shabaab is primarily focused on Somali politics and taking power within Somalia, and the other is intent on sort of making a name for itself as a global terrorist player. I think that is part of what we saw here at Westgate Mall.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of Americans involved in al-Shabaab?

JEREMY SCAHILL: There has been anywhere from a couple dozen to 50 or 60 Americans that have gone to Somalia to work alongside or fight alongside al-Shabaab or other militant organizations. Many have come from the state of Minnesota, and the Somali-American community — I was there recently — is really caught in a difficult position because, on the one hand, they are being targeted by federal agents and they are being targeted by surveillance and they have their mosques and their community organizations being surveilled. On the other hand people in that community are very concerned about the fact that young people are being recruited from Minneapolis to go to Somalia. There have been several young Somali-Americans who have acted as suicide bombers trying to blow themselves — or blowing themselves up at the gates of the U.S.-backed African Union forces that are in Somalia or attacking Somali Government ministries.

On the one hand, this is a real problem that you have these young people that are being recruited and going over there. On the other hand, there has been this incredible overreaction to it. I think a lot — immigrant communities are being targeted for this. In the whole scheme of things, it is a relatively small problem. But, I think there is — Representative Peter King has just been — who is the informal chair of the Islamaphobe caucus in Congress has really sort of tried to paint this as some kind of bogeyman on steroids. It is a real issue, but I think that the fact that the Somali community in Minneapolis is under this kind of intense scrutiny right now, is unjust on the one hand. on the other hand, they have really been unified in speaking out and demonstrating against what happened at the Westgate mall.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What you think, Jeremy, contributed to the expansion of al-Shabaab and to the splintering of which you spoke?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right, I mean, all of a sudden now we have like sea horses where you pour the thing in and it creates sea horses. We have that with like the terrorism expert industry now; everybody knows everything about al-Shabaab, and yet there is very little context given to this. One of the things that I get into in my book, in “Dirty Wars,” is where al-Shabaab came from.

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