Riverside attack a sign of al-Shabab resilience: experts
The deadly attack that rocked 14 Riverside in Nairobi on Tuesday killing 16 people is seen by some experts as a signal of resilience by the Islamist militant group that has been battling U.S.-backed forces in East Africa for years.
The attack on the Dusit D2 hotel in Nairobi contained the hallmarks of al-Shabab’s previous tactics: detonating explosives, followed by suicide infantry.
But it does not necessarily demonstrate the group is resurging.
Rather, the attack shows its ability to survive and execute significant attacks, according to U.S. officials and other observers interviewed by VOA.
Karl Wiest, a spokesperson for U.S. Africa Command, told VOA that al-Shabab is repeatedly targeting civilians to undermine the U.S.’ relationship with its African allies.
“This violent extremist group continues to seek the establishment of self-governed Islamic territory in East Africa, the removal of Western influence and presence from the region, and to further its jihadist agenda,” Wiest said.
In its statement claiming responsibility for the attack Tuesday, al-Shabab said it was in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“Even if the Zionists and crusaders were to move all the embassies in the world to Jerusalem, the sacred land shall forever remain a noble Muslim sanctuary, without concession or compromise. Jerusalem will never be Judaized,” the statement said.
An affiliate of al-Qaida, al-Shabab formed in 2006 as a militant Islamic movement resisting the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. Over the years, the group has taken advantage of conflict and weak governance in the region and expanded to neighboring Kenya, Yemen, Tanzania and Mozambique.
Wiest said al-Shabab’s core influence is in Somalia where it has an estimated 3,000 to 7,000 fighters. The group has engaged in fierce rivalry with IS militants who, according to Wiest, number about 250 fighters.
“Al-Shabab controls roughly 20 percent of Somalia, primarily in southern Somalia, where they have maintained a historical presence. ISIS-Somalia doesn’t control any territory but maintains influence and a very small presence in comparison to al-Shabab in Somalia in northern Puntland,” Wiest said.
The group once controlled large swaths of Somalia but was beaten back by a coordinated international effort such as those from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM).
Its main operations now rely on making surprise and systematic attacks on soft public targets and tourism attractions, such as hotels hosting foreigners.
Last November, the group killed at least 20 people in a bomb attack targeting government officials staying in the Sahafi Hotel in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.
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