Al Shabaab Wesltake Mall Attackers, Nairobi Kenya, September 21, 2013
This weekend Al Shabaab released a video featuring a British accented English speaking spokesperson masked behind a white checked kaffiyeh threatening attacks on malls in America, Canada and the UK. It singling out for attention, the giant Mall of America (MoA) near the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul posting the MoA GPS coordinates on screen. The Twin cities have been an Al Shabaab recruiting center drawing on the large Somali émigré communities. A number of recruits have been killed and some returning ones have been prosecuted in federal courts. Given Al Shabaab’s deadly truck bombing attack on a hotel in Mogadishu last Friday that killed 25 wounding 45 and the 2013 Westlake Mall attack in Nairobi that killed 67 wounding over 200. there was lots of chatter on Sunday talk shows about the Al Shabaab video threatening attacks on malls here in the US.
Watch this Sunday Fox and Friends report.
The FBI has a “huge job in front of them.
You look at the Mall of America, you look at all the malls then you start to backtrack and say you know it would be nice if we knew what comes and goes into the country. We don’t have a clue.
Department of Homeland Security Jae Johnson appearing on both ABC News and NBC Meet the Press commented:
There needs to be awareness.
We’re in a new phase now, and I’m afraid that this most recent video release reflects that.
A joint DHS FBI statement released Sunday drew attention to mall security concerns:
In recent months, the FBI and DHS have worked closely with our state and local public safety counterparts and members of the private sector, to include mall owners and operators, to prevent and mitigate these types of threats.
Mall of America issued a statement saying:
We will continue to monitor events with the help of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. As always, we take any potential threat seriously and respond appropriately. Mall of America has implemented extra security precautions, some may be noticeable to guests, and others won’t be. We will continue to follow the situation, along with law enforcement, and will remain vigilant as we always do in similar situation.
Could a Nairobi type Swarming attack happen in the US?
Because there were allegations that there may have been émigré Somali Americans in the Westgate Mall attack, that raises serious questions from counterterrorism agencies in the US whether returning Jihadis could undertake a Nairobi type swarming attack on a mall here. In May 2013, two returning Al Shabaab US recruits were convicted in a Minneapolis Federal court and given lengthy sentences on charges including in one case, conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim and injure.
A CNN report endeavoring to answer this “what if” question chronicled a series of actions at American Malls, some of which have been thwarted, but others have not. It noted these:
In the past few years, federal prosecutors say they have thwarted two planned attacks on malls, each of which would have been carried out by single attacker:
–Nuradin M. Abdi, a Somali citizen living in Columbus, Ohio, was sentenced in 2007 to 10 years in prison after admitting he sought terrorist training in Ethiopia to carry out attacks, including a never-attempted attack on a mall in 2002.
–Derrick Shareef of Rockford, Illinois, was sentenced in 2008 to 35 years in prison after pleading guilty to plotting to set off grenades at a Rockford shopping mall. Shareef was a convert to Islam who was recorded saying he wanted to kill “infidels.”
But attacks which have succeeded in causing casualties at American malls in recent years have been carried out by young lone gunmen with no apparent cause to promote:
–A 19-year-old man killed eight people and then himself at an Omaha, Nebraska, mall in December 2007.
–An 18-year-old man killed five people before he was killed by police at a mall in Salt Lake City, Utah, in February 2007.
–A 22-year-old man killed two people and then himself at a mall near Portland, Oregon, in December 2012.
“Soft targets always attract the terrorists because they’re usually not defended,” said Lt. Col. Rick Francona, CNN’s military analyst. “It’s a very effective way of causing a lot of panic, a lot of damage very quickly and achieving the objective of terrorizing people.”
One possible target could be the giant Mall of America (MoA) complex in Bloomington, Minnesota. It lies within easy reach of the largest Somali émigré community in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul with more than two dozen Al Shabaab recruits, 10 of whom have been killed.
The CNN article noted what precautions the MoA has taken against this possibility:
“I think that if you’re looking for a hundred percent safety, you should probably wrap yourself in bubble wrap and never leave home,” said Doug Reynolds, security director of the Mall of America.
A strategy to minimize the damage a lone attacker or an armed group could do before authorities arrive can be seen twice a month at the giant mall in Bloomington, Minnesota, which is visited by 43 million people a year.
A voice comes over the public address system and announces that everyone, customers included, should take shelter in back rooms of the mall’s stores. Employees lock doors and lower security gates.
“If something bad should happen here, we don’t want our response to start with law enforcement will be here and will protect you,” Reynolds said. “We want to know what can be done before law enforcement gets here.”]
The Al Shabaab Nairobi type swarming attack is eerily reminiscent of the Black Friday swarming attack scenario we discussed in our June 2009 article, Foot Soldiers of Islam involving returning Al Shabaab US recruits engaged in an action not unlike the Nairobi Mall attack. We noted:
We saw in the tragedy in Mumbai, India, [on November 29, 2008], the devastation, death and destruction wrought by a ‘swarming attack’ of a limited number of Kashmiri and Pakistani extremists. Counter terrorism experts and the FBI consider such swarming attacks as a high risk in America.
[ . . .]
The casualties from such orchestrated swarming attacks could be devastating and the economic impacts, significant. Currently, we don’t have local counter terrorism forces trained in weapons and tactics to combat Mumbai-type swarming attacks in high risk communities in this country. We need to make that an important counter terrorism priority, including penetration of such local Jihadi networks.