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The bloody standoff at a Nairobi shopping mall has ended its fourth day. Kenya’s government claims its forces have gained control of the upscale shopping center where militants representing the terrorist group al-Shabaab were holding hostages. But weapons fire and bomb blasts continue to be heard from the mall and the attackers have Tweeted that they are still resisting government forces. Speculation is growing about the identity of the militants and how they pulled off a such a brazen assault. While al-Shabaab is a Somali militia, it appears operatives inside the mall were a multinational group, possibly including Americans. Guest host Katty Kay and her guests discuss international terrorism and implications for security at home.
- Yochi Dreazen senior writer, Foreign Policy, and author of the upcoming book, "Invisible Front."
- Paul Pillar non-resident senior fellow, Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University, and a former CIA National Intelligence officer.
- Robin Sanders former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria (2007-10) and the Republic of Congo (2002-05).
MS. KATTY KAYThanks for joining us. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane will be out this week for a cause that is dear to her heart. She is in California starring in a play to benefit Alzheimer's research. She looks forward to being back here with you all next Monday. At least 65 civilians have been killed, and more than 175 people have been injured in a bloody standoff between an al-Qaida affiliate and Kenyan government forces at an upscale Nairobi shopping mall.
MS. KATTY KAYThe incident underscores the resilience of al-Qaida and its affiliates in Africa. Joining me in the studio to talk about international terrorism and the implications for security at home: Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy magazine, Paul Pillar of Georgetown University, and, joining us for the hour by phone from New York, is Robin Saunders. He's the former American ambassador to Nigeria and to the Republic of Congo. Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining me.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENThanks, Katty.
MR. PAUL PILLARHello, Katty.
AMB. ROBIN SAUNDERSThank you.
KAYShe -- and thank you, Amb. Saunders.
KAYThe phone number here is 1-800-433-8850. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be taking your questions and comments later on in the program. First of all, Yochi, let me start with you. Can you give us an update on the situation at the Westgate Mall? Because it is pretty confusing.
DREAZENIt is. You have the Kenyan government basically saying that they have mostly control and are doing mop up -- what they refer to as mop up operations. Then you have a lot of militants inside continuing to use Twitter, which is one of the most interesting things about this, to tweet out that they are still there, that they still have hostages, and to basically threaten to kill those hostages if Kenyan forces go in any further.
DREAZENThere have been reports from the scene of explosions, of gunfire. This is after the Kenyan government said it'd been claimed. Another interesting detail is that there are Israeli military and counterterror advisors at the scene alongside Americans. So you have this sort of odd alliance. We're talking later about Americans and British being among the attackers, but this odd alliance of counterterror forces from Israel and the United States also being part of the response to the attack.
KAYPaul Pillar, there have been some stories of some of the attackers perhaps trying to disguise themselves to get away. Do we know how many have killed, been killed? How many have been rounded up? How many exactly were involved?
PILLARWell, that's part of the confusion as well. There were indeed reports that some of the militants were stripping off their clothing and trying to fade into the crowd that was escaping from the mall. And so I suspect some of the continuing uncertainty as to exactly what the situation is, as well as how many militants there were, reflects those sorts of tactics of trying to disguise their presence.
KAYAmb. Saunders, what can you tell us about the group al-Shabaab? How surprised were you when we all woke up on Saturday morning and heard that this attack was taking place?
SAUNDERSWell, I'm not surprised by the commitment of al-Shabaab to do something dramatic. What I am surprised about is the level of sophistication, which is really a pivot from what they were doing before. They had been pretty much weakened -- at least that's what we thought -- from 2010, 2011, when they were ratted out of Mogadishu and Kismayo.
SAUNDERSWe knew they weren't completely gone, but we thought that they did not have this level of sophistication, which really indicates two things to me: one, they either had foreign help in organizing this and planning it, and really had been planning it for quite some time, and, two -- and based on reports that we're hearing now -- that they had foreign elements in their group that attacked the mall, so very, very different strategy, both strategically as well as tactically.
KAYYochi, let's talk about that a little bit more. We have Kenya's foreign minister saying that there were two or three Americans and possibly a British woman among the attackers. What more do we know about this?
DREAZENIf I could just make a quick addition to the ambassador's point, it was sophisticated not just tactically but also in terms of the target. They want African Union peacekeepers out of Somalia. They've been very careful in who they've attacked. They've attacked Uganda. They had the car bombing that killed about 60-odd people during a World Cup match several years ago.
DREAZENThey've now attacked Kenya. Kenya and Uganda are two of the biggest troop contributing countries. So this is sophisticated politically as well as tactically. In terms of the identities of the attackers, the British woman is someone -- the person they think they have is someone who'd been on both U.S. and British screens for quite some time as a possible terrorist.
DREAZENSo if she is involved, the question obviously would be, how did you fall through the cracks? In terms of the Americans, we think often about radicalization here being Arab-American as a predominant concern. A lot of the profiling has been of Arab-Americans. But there is a very serious concern about radicalization among the Somali community, particularly in Minnesota...
KAYAnd we've had a statement from some members of that community, Paul Pillar, from Minnesota who are obviously saying that they are decrying what happened in Kenya.
PILLARYes. And we've had a history of at least 20 and probably much more known young men from that community in the Minneapolis area who have gone off and joined al-Shabaab. That's a concern for the FBI. It's obviously a concern for the community, too, the parents and the friends and the community leaders who are basically worried about getting a bad name.
KAYPaul, a little bit more, to the extent that we know it, on the details of what was going on inside that shopping mall for the last three days because some of the stories we're getting out are particularly gruesome.
PILLARIt appears that the perpetrators were intent on stretching out this incident as long as possible, not necessarily to inflict the maximum damage in a shorter possible time but rather to have this as a continuing story that would drag on, as indeed it has, for more than just one day. And I think this harks back to the kind of old style terrorism that we always thought of.
PILLARMy old friend Brian Jenkins talked about how terrorists want a lot of people watching not necessarily a lot of people dead. And this was partly what we were seeing. It was playing on the publicity, playing on the idea that these militants could not just kill a lot of people in a few minutes but see their attention and keep the authorities from securing the shopping mall for days.
KAYAmb. Saunders, you described it as a sophisticated plot, and you were surprised by that. What particularly about it suggests sophistication in the organization?
SAUNDERSWell, certainly when I said strategical and tactical, I included the political in that comment because the spokesperson from al-Shabaab has been saying for quite some time that this would be -- Kenya would have to pay for its support for ratting them out of Mogadishu and Kismayo. And clearly, even though we're only hearing about this particular incident, there were at least three or four -- or even six, I think -- between January and June of 2013 where they were at low level fighting and grenades being thrown in Kenya and on the border and people being killed.
SAUNDERSWe just haven't heard about it here that much in the U.S. The sophistication is, to me, they've learned from even the Boston Marathon. They've learned to bring in clothes to change, so some of them could probably leave with the victims. They learned to split up the hostages in different places so that it would make rescue and attack more difficult by the outside forces.
SAUNDERSIn terms of Special Forces coming in and attacking one location, they spread themselves out, so it'd make it more difficult for any kind of rescue, a complete rescue of the hostages, as well as a single attack. So I think that those are some of the sophistications. They've really thought this through, and I think they've done it over a number of times with certainly outside help.
SAUNDERSI want to just touch a little bit on the Somali issue in terms of the Somali community not only in Minneapolis, St. Paul, but Ohio and Seattle, Wash. where they're also largest. Roughly, approximately 85,000-plus people in the United States of Somali ancestry, and really since 2005, 2006, we've been noticing really an uptick of Somali immigrants, particularly young people under the age of 30, 35, really looking for other ways to express their disenfranchisement.
SAUNDERSAnd they have gone on not only to Somalia, but they've also gone on to places like Yemen to be trained, to join these groups, and really to participate in the objective of establishing a Islamic caliphate, you know, throughout the Horn of Africa.
KAYYochi, terrorism is always, by its very nature, brutal. But the stories we are hearing from inside the mall of people being separated according to religion, there is something particularly personal almost about the way these attackers carried out their killings.
DREAZENYeah. I completely agree. I mean, there's the possibility of doing a bomb where you kill a lot of people, but they're people you don't know or see. They're just people in a crowd. And when I was living in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were all too many of those where there was horrible carnage, but it was carried out by a stranger.
DREAZENIn this case, you have attackers quite literally looking a person in the face and, depending on either their race or whether they can answers about Islam, shooting them in the head. So this is a very intimate and almost, in some ways, more disconcerting kind of attack because of that intimacy. 'Cause we're sitting now in a studio probably three feet away. We'd be closer than that.
DREAZENI would look you in the eye and see you in the face and still shoot. Some of the individual stories now that are also coming out about victims are heartbreaking. There's one particular story that's now getting rightfully-allowed attention of a Danish couple. He was an architect who was there to build houses for the poor. She was 8 1/2 months pregnant. And they were both killed. So you think about, in that case, they weren't just killed in an explosion. This was a person who saw a pregnant woman, saw her husband, saw them both cowering, and shot them both.
KAYThe president of Kenya also lost a nephew. A famous Ghanaian poet was also among those killed. Was there a significance for the attackers in choosing the Westgate shopping mall?
PILLARThis was a mall that was frequented by Westerners. It is at the capital Nairobi, one that -- where it's reasonable to expect the perpetrators were making a statement not only about what Kenya was doing in Somalia, that I would put that as first in their list of grievances, but also to strike a blow against Westerners at the same time.
KAYYochi, you mentioned at the beginning of the program that you understand there are American Special Forces, there are also Israeli Special Forces involved in the operation as we are speaking now to liberate the mall. What more can you tell us about that?
DREAZENAnd I'm sorry. I should have clarified more that these are counterterror advisors. They probably aren't military.
DREAZENThey may well be civilian.
DREAZENIsrael and Kenya have had a very close relationship dating back decades. The U.S. has mounted operations in and around Kenya, U.S. special operations command primarily trying to target and kill individual militants. There's been a very close relationship between the three countries.
DREAZENIn terms of the actual advice, the advice that Israel has given, as I'm told, is about how to clear a building, not how to breach it -- but then how to safely clear it without causing more death, that that's a specialty that the Israelis have developed, unfortunately, over time. And that's a specific element that they're trying to provide training on in real time during this attack.
KAYAnd briefly what we know at the moment is that they have cleared -- that the hostages are all free right now, and they are still working inside the building with explosives that might have been planted?
DREAZENIt depends a bit on whose Twitter feed you follow. And it's such a weird heart of this whole story. But the Kenyan government is tweeting, we have the mall. We're doing mop up -- that's the phrase they use. And the al-Shabaab Twitter feed immediately said, we still have hostages. They use this weird English phrase that's sort of polite in a disconcerting condition. But they say they still have them.
KAYOK. Yochi Dreazen, Paul Pillar are both with me in the studio to discuss the Nairobi hostage-taking in that shopping mall. Amb. Robin Saunders is on the phone with us as well from New York. Stay with us. We're going to take a quick break. We will be taking more of your questions, your comments later on in the program. Thank you.
KAY...of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. You've joined our conversation on the extraordinary and awful events that we've been watching happening in Nairobi over the last four days, of course, that hostage-taking in the shopping mall, which has claimed so many victims, and is still slightly uncertain as to whether there are those attackers still in the mall.
KAYI want to -- we've talked about the operation. We've talked about where it stands, what was going on in that mall. I want to ask you, Amb. Saunders, a little bit more about al-Shabaab and what we know about them. You mentioned that they had been cleared out of Mogadishu. Do you think the fact that, paradoxically, that for the first time in decades, we see some sort of stability within inside Somalia is why we're not seeing al-Shabaab operating outside the country?
SAUNDERSWell, I want to go back to sort of that pivot that I talked about because there are still things going on in Somalia. Even over the course of the weekend, and right before this attack, there was a Somalian senator killed reportedly also by al-Shabaab. So I don't think we should forget that Somalia, even though it's transitioning, there are other places outside of Mogadishu and Kismayo that are still facing low-level attacks and low-level conflicts on behalf of al-Shabaab.
SAUNDERSSo we need to keep our eye on both areas, not only Somalia so that the fragile transition there doesn't get derailed, but also in the rest of the Horn and even here in the United States as we look at where this group might be going. This asymmetrical warfare has expanded now to include, you know, several areas. And I think we need to be very careful that we don't take our eye off of that fact that they are continually evolving. And we should never underestimate their ability to do things like this.
SAUNDERSWe have a tendency to want to declare successes too early in a process. And sometimes what that does is has the countereffect of trying to embolden these groups even more to prove us wrong. So I think we need to be very, very careful that this might just be the beginning. We don't even know whether they've planned yet another attack to go along with what's happening in Kenya. So we cannot take our eye off the prize here.
SAUNDERSThe other thing I think was important in looking at this whole pivot and their change in strategy and tactics, which includes, of course, the political, at some point they were able to blend in up until the point they pulled out their weapons and started the attack. So how did they go about doing that? How did they go about doing that without being noticed? And that's, I think, a key thing for us to be looking at going forward.
SAUNDERSWe need to try to be four to five steps ahead because clearly they feel like they have the upper hand now. And we need to be sure that other things are not being planned and really be on our guard in that regard. The other point I wanted to make was, in terms of their dehumanization of the victims that they have as hostages, there are reports that they were going up to people saying, are you Muslim or Christian?
SAUNDERSSo really just underscoring from their point of view that they want an Islamic state in the Horn and they really want to root out and make this about a religious end goal, and I don't think we should forget that because that is really kind of -- it more politicizes the event. And it really puts the people in Nairobi and the rest of Kenya on edge because you don't know where their next attack might come from.
KAYYeah, of course, this is, you know, a shock to Kenyans, and they feel it very close to home. Paul, we've had an email come in to us from Tom who asks this question: "Is this about religion, or is it really politics couched in Islamic beliefs?"
PILLARWell, it's certainly both, and I think the ambassador gave us a very good frame of reference in how to think about this. We're talking about a group that wants to impose their version of Sharia, which means a religiously-inspired way of organizing politics in society. So for the people we're talking about, the question of is it politics or is it religion is really the wrong question, and it's inseparable.
DREAZENI think that's right. I mean, it's also worth remembering that this attack isn't happening in a vacuum. I have a piece in the current Atlantic about Africa's emergence as sort of a terror hub. You have multiple countries across Africa where very violent Islamist groups have taken, in the case of Mali, for the first time in the history of al-Qaida, actually conquered part of a country and used it as a base. But in Mali, in Libya, in Algeria, in Uganda, in Kenya, we put together a map...
DREAZENAnd Nigeria. We put together -- Niger -- we put together a map showing the number of countries in which these kind of attacks take place in which these groups are active. It's extraordinary. I mean, we tend to focus on the Middle East, on Afghanistan, on Pakistan. We don't focus on Africa, but the emergence of these groups in Africa and the collaboration between them is really alarming.
KAYWhy? What's going on?
DREAZENSo in Africa you have almost the ideal situation for these groups. You have failing or failed governments, lawless borders, the influx of tremendous amounts of drug money, weapons flows that have taken decades, complete lack of oversight and sort of anarchy in much of the continent. And you've got groups that can move very freely.
DREAZENSo al-Qaida and the Islamic Maghreb, that group that took control of Mali, helped plan the attack in Benghazi that killed Amb. Stevens, three other Americans. They took part in an attack in Algeria that conquered an oil refinery. So you've had groups that not only have power in their own country but can move across the continent to carry out other attacks fairly freely.
SAUNDERSCan I just add to that, if you don't mind?
KAYYes, go ahead. Mm hmm.
SAUNDERSOne of the things that I think we all need to keep in mind in having, you know, come out of Nigeria at the beginning of when Boko Haram was resurging, is we have a tendency in the West to put everybody in the same mold, this cookie cutter approach to these groups. And I think that that is really the wrong direction to go in. They are very much a fundamentalist group, but they have very separate goals.
SAUNDERSI would not put the fundamentalists in Mali with what's going on in Boko Haram or what's going on in the Horn today. They may be using the same tactics and tools, al-Qaida-like tactics and tools and terrorism, but their fundamental goals are really driven by their national interests. You know, in the northern part of Nigeria, in the northern part of Mali, they're looking at trying to establish Islamic states in those areas.
SAUNDERSI don't think that we do a good job of making sure that we're looking at all of these groups for their own particular goals and objectives, even though they might be using international terrorism tools. And so this cookie cutter approach that we have to lumping them altogether I think makes us a little bit more vulnerable. We need to be looking at them in terms of what their goals are, what they're trying to achieve, and how we can counter that as we go forward.
KAYWell, let's talk about America's vulnerability here. To what extent, Paul Pillar, are these different groups and what we've -- you know, with reference to what we've seen in Nairobi over the weekend, a threat to the United States? I remember during the war in Mali, the French-led war in Mali recently, people here in Washington suggesting that actually there was not a huge threat to the U.S. from that particular emergence of an al-Qaida affiliate.
PILLARI think a good answer to that, Katty, is based on Amb. Saunders last point with which I fully agree, and that is that we have to look at these individual groups in terms of their primarily local objectives and to resist the temptation which we too often fall into by applying the label al-Qaida to all of these radical Sunni Jihadist militant groups, where really they are focused on what's happening in North Africa in the case of AQIM, what's happening in Nigeria in the case of Boko Haram, what's happening in Somalia in the case of al-Shabaab.
PILLARThese are often identified as al-Qaida affiliates. This is to be distinguished from the al-Qaida, the group that's still holed out in South Asia, that group that did 9/11. For various reason the so-called affiliates, like al-Shabaab, as indeed that group did about a year-and-a-half-ago, may declare their allegiance to al-Qaida.
PILLARThat does not reflect an organizational affiliation beyond a sort of mutual advantage in which the affiliate sees some advantage to it for adapting the recognizable al-Qaida brand name. And al-Qaida central sees the advantage of making it appear that their reach runs around the world. So the short answer to your question, Katty, is I don't see a direct threat for the most part, although we do have to remember what al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula did with regard to a couple of attacks aimed at the U.S. homeland.
PILLARI think our main worry, as far as Homeland Security, has to do with individuals, such as these several dozens of ethnic Somali young men who came from Minnesota or wherever, and what they might do as individuals or as small groups if they came back here to the United States.
KAYSo is that what worries you most about what you've heard out of Nairobi?
PILLARYes. I do not worry about an al-Shabaab operation, you know, as a group hitting someplace here in the U.S. homeland. I do have some concern about what individuals who have received training perhaps and experience in the field of battle in Somalia might do with their skills as individuals or small groups back here in the U.S.
KAYOK. Yochi, you've written a piece in Foreign Policy magazine. As you say, you look at Islamic extremism through the breadth of Africa. Do you agree with Paul that actually there is not that much for America to be concerned about here?
DREAZENThe way that was described to me universally by the multitude of U.S. military intelligence people I spoke to for the piece in the Atlantic was that for some of these groups there is an aspirational element but not a current ability. AQIM has explicitly threatened to carry out attacks in France as retaliation for the French intervention. They've talked about attacks in the U.S. No one I've spoken to believes they can currently reach the U.S.
DREAZENThe French believe they can currently hit France. The issue there specifically at AQIM -- and I agree we have to disaggregate them -- is that there are tens of thousands of Malians who live in France, thousands who go back and forth, the fears that you could have radical elements either make that trip or radicalize inside of France...
KAYWhich was why the French launched the operation they did.
DREAZEN...which is why the French launched it. I mean, the secondary...
DREAZEN...the second order affect where you do hear some concern is, it's much easier obviously to travel to the U.S. from Europe than from Africa certainly. So there is a fear that in the future, not today, not tomorrow, not in a month from now, but that you could have a group -- not like al-Shabaab but like AQIM -- manage to send people from France to the U.S. But I agree that this is not something where it's an immediate threat that tomorrow we should be thinking about al-Shabaab or even AQIM carrying out an attack here.
SAUNDERSYes. I was just going to add as well that I think the franchising part of this is what I worry about the most, individuals learning from these attacks, being inspired by the chat rooms that are on the Internet and having singular individuals go out and try to make their manifesto live here in the United States. I think Boston is a good example of what can happen. And, you know, what happened in April, I think that's a good example of the franchising types of activities that worry me the most.
SAUNDERSIt's that individual that's been inspired by this that wants to do something very similar on a large or on a small scale. We had one individual of course, you know, almost a week-and-a-half ago now that did something at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. So you have these individuals that can be inspired, and you have this franchising -- is what I'm calling it -- opportunities where you have an individual going out and trying to make an impact because they've been inspired by such actions as what we've seen in Kenya over the last couple of days.
KAYAmbassador, when you were in Nigeria, did you ever meet any members of Boko Haram?
SAUNDERSWhen I was in Nigeria, I did go up to Borno which is Borno State, which is sort of the main hub where Boko Haram started from, although they have now traveled down logistically to areas like the capital. But certainly, I did -- in a session that I had right after President Obama gave his speech in Ghana, I went up to that region to really talk about how the U.S. wanted to reach out to the Muslim community.
SAUNDERSAnd in that instance, yeah, I did have contact with members who -- individuals who claimed that they were inspired by Boko Haram and were members of Boko Haram. Whether they were or were not, I can't tell you for sure, but that's what they said to me at several of the roundtable discussions that I had when I was up in that region.
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to join us, do call. 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. You can send us an email as well to email@example.com. What I wanted to find out from you, Ambassador, whether you felt that -- bearing in mind what you said about the fact that we shouldn't lump all of these groups together -- there was a similar anti-American or anti-Western feeling about the Nigerian Islamic militants as there is about some of the Middle Eastern-based militant groups.
SAUNDERSI think I'd go back to my earlier point that they really have national goals. And we get swept up in those national goals. I mean, they feel that they want Islamic state in the north. And anything that impedes them from doing that then becomes a threat and then becomes a target and then becomes an enemy. But if you look at some of their attacks, they really haven't really gone after -- outside of the U.N. building, which I think was a global symbol for them, to show that they had impact just like al-Shabaab, really changing their tactics, changing their strategy, showing what kind of strength they did have.
SAUNDERSThey really want to change the political and geographical dimension of Nigeria, and they do want an Islamic state in the north. So we're not necessarily the targets, but we actually can get swept up in their overall goals of changing the dynamics on the ground and changing the national direction of Nigeria.
KAYOK. Let's go to the phones now. Richard joining us. You are on the air on "The Diane Rehm Show." You have a question for the panel.
RICHARDYes. Katty, thank you so much. You know, the reason why al-Shabaab and al-Qaida are justifying the horrors of what they're doing is that, you know, Kenya invaded Somalia, and Ugandan troops were in Somalia -- and what al-Shabaab did in Uganda. So, you know, it's just this ongoing escalation of violence. And, you know -- and another reason why they said was because of the drone warfare, especially in the northeastern part of Pakistan.
RICHARDThat is a form of terror. A lot of people believe that drone warfare is a form of terror. It is -- to hear planes coming over and you don't know whether you're going to get killed or not -- and, yeah, we might target a few so-called extremists, but a lot of collateral damage is done. So this is ongoing, Katty. It's just never going to end. It's such -- you know, one thing is escalating to another, and there's no end to this.
KAYOK, Richard. Let me put your points to Paul. I mean, the point about the Kenyan involvement -- and clearly there was a anti-Kenyan element here in what they were doing. And they have said it -- al-Shabaab -- that this is retaliation against Kenya. What about the point about drones, because actually drones have not been used as much, have they, in that part of the world?
PILLARThat was the first of two points I was going to make, Katty, that, in contrast with across the Gulf in Yemen and even more so in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the United States has made very sparing use. I think only a couple of times there have been drone strikes in Somalia. There have also been a couple of special operations on the ground. So there clearly has been a conscious U.S. decision not to weigh in on this conflict in Somalia to anywhere near the same degree as what we've seen in Yemen or in South Asia.
PILLARNow, that does not mean that people cannot be angered or inflamed by operations that take place in another region, in another country. Nonetheless, I think the primary reaction that we see here in Somalia that produces the kind of escalation that Richard is referring to has to do with the attacks directly in Somalia.
DREAZENI agree. I mean, I think that the primary focus here is -- it's a local one. It's not about Pakistan. That said, when you're in the region and watching satellite television, even if it's local indigenous satellite television, the coverage given to drone strikes is really extraordinary. And when I was in Mali, the amount of coverage given to drone strikes in Pakistan, even when there was an act of war happening in Mali, was disproportionate and really surprised me.
KAYAll the way from Mali to Pakistan, people are watching what's happening.
DREAZENThey're watching what's happening in Pakistan.
KAYWhich is a good reminder to us all, of course, that people are watching around the world what other countries are doing. Yochi Dreazen is a senior writer with Foreign Policy magazine and author of the upcoming book "Invisible Front." Paul Pillar is a senior fellow at the center for security studies at Georgetown University and a former CIA national intelligence officer. And Amb. Robin Saunders also joins us on the phone. Stay with us. We will be taking more of your questions and comments. 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. We're going to take a quick break. Stay listening.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. You've joined our conversation on the hostage-taking in Nairobi, Kenya, al-Shabaab and what it means for American national security. I'm joined here in the studio by Yochi Dreazen. Paul Pillar is also with me, as is Amb. Robin Saunders joining me on the line from New York. We're going to go straight back to our calls now and Adam (sic) in Washington, D.C. Adam, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
KAYHi there. Yes. Do we have you?
ADIAMYes, yes, so sorry.
KAYThat's doesn't sound like an Adam to me. Adiam. (sp?)
KAYThank you. Adiam, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
ADIAMThank you. My -- what I wanted to contribute was that it wasn't so much that al-Shabaab had lost its steam over the summer, if you will. It's that they had a very violent inner power struggle, and four major generals, including two founding members, were killed. The Victorious Party is the one that you see in Kenya now, and it's led by someone who goes by the name of al-Afghani. I'm not sure if that is a notation to his origin or if he fought in Afghanistan before.
ADIAMBut this is a group that is heavily influenced by the Mumbai attacks. And if you all have seen photographs of the Kenyan attackers clearly, at least two of them -- two of the photos that I saw are clearly of Southeast Asian origin. So there's a -- I mean, it's about to get even worse. The group that is -- has (unintelligible) control of al-Shabaab is prone to these types of attacks. And they're no longer willing to just fight, you know, in Somalia. They're willing to, you know, attack civilians and so forth. And I'll take my comments off the air.
KAYOK. Adiam, thank you for joining us. Paul.
PILLARAdiam does us a service by bringing up a topic we had neglected to get into before, and that is the internal divisions within al-Shabaab. So when we try to analyze this event, this attack, in terms of what the motivations were, we've already talked about a number of things, getting back at the Kenyans for what they've done in Somalia, perhaps some of the more farther-reaching anti-Western transnational objectives.
PILLARBut I think, although it would be hard for us on the outside to figure out all the ins and outs of it, that this does also have a lot to do with the internal factional struggles within al-Shabaab. And of course al-Shabaab itself sort of evolved as a more radical faction coming out of the old Islamic courts union, which was one of the dominant factions earlier about a decade ago in Somalia.
KAYWhen organizations like this splinter and have internal divisions, can they paradoxically be more dangerous?
PILLARYes. Because there's an incentive usually for at least one of the fractured parts to show its strength, to force the hand perhaps of other factions that have different ideas about what sort of tactics to use. So, yes, I would say on balance the risk of more active operations goes up.
KAYOK. Let's go to Marcus in Little Rock, Ark. Marcus, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show." You have a question for our panel.
MARCUSIt was more of just a statement than a question. I appreciate you taking my call.
MARCUSI'm a convert to Islam. I was raised in America, raised as a Christian. And what drew me to Islam was the beautiful, fundamental core of the religion. And I kind of keep hearing this phrase over and over, that these people are fundamentalists and they're fundamentalists Muslims. And I can tell you that that couldn't be further from the truth because they're not adhering to the fundamentals of Islam.
MARCUSShooting people in the face is not fundamental of Islam. And these guys are a radical fringe that they would not have anything to do with me, nor would I have anything to do with them. And I think that's an important point to look at, that these guys have nothing to do with the fundamentals of Islam. They're not Muslims doing crazy stuff. They're just inhuman monsters doing crazy stuff. And I just think that's an important word that we should look at, is this word fundamentalist.
KAYYou're right. We should pick our words carefully. And thank you for reminding us of that, Marcus, as we look at what's happened, of course, in Nairobi over the course of the weekend. And it is exactly what the Muslim community in Minnesota -- putting out a statement this morning -- has also been keen to stress, that they are denouncing the use of violence in the name of religion. Yochi?
DREAZENI agree. And it's obviously, given the size of the Muslims, a billion plus around the world, it's a tiny, tiny, tiny fringe. That said, the question of politicized Islam and its goals around the world can't just be dismissed as these are people who have no support. There are Islamist-motivated attacks around the globe. There's a bigger concern of Islamists willing to support it financially.
DREAZENSo a lot of the rebels in Syria are not simply groups that believe they're fighting in the name of Islam, but they're getting tremendous amounts of money from others in the Gulf who believe they're supporting those fighting in the name of Islam. So I completely agree that's a danger to lump all Muslims together, all Muslim fighters together, but at the same time we'd be intellectually dishonest to say that there isn't some concern among this tiny, tiny fringe that needs to be examined and looked at very carefully.
KAYYou've all raised the concerns that you have about the fact that there were Americans, it seems, involved in the hostage-taking in Nairobi. What more can be done by the U.S. to track, monitor, prevent, Paul, that kind of thing from happening again, to prevent this, you know, to try and see what's going on in this community and, you know, stop them from becoming radicalized in a way that leads to violence?
PILLARWell, there are different schools of thought on this. You hear a lot of talk about explicit deradicalization efforts, which are basically educational efforts that would be aimed at certain communities that are seen as vulnerable here in the United States. Another line of thought has to do with, you know, how integrated or not integrated an entire community is.
PILLARAnd one of the sort of bits of conventional wisdom we've comforted ourselves with here in the United States for a long time, in contrasting ourselves with some of the European countries like France, is that we see our Muslim communities as better integrated than is true of some of the other Europeans.
PILLARBut I would hasten to point out, you look at something like Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, this was a U.S. Army officer. That's about as integrated as you can get. And so we can't be too sure of this. There is no silver bullet on this, Katty. And there are debates that continue to rage today about just what deradicalization means and what sort of preventive measures could be taken.
SAUNDERSCan I add...
KAYYes. Ambassador, I was just going to ask you, Amb. Saunders, 'cause it is true actually, isn't it, historically, at least, there have been fewer radicalized, as a proportion of the Muslim population, fewer radicalized Americans than there have been certainly in Britain or in France. Do you think that's changing?
SAUNDERSWell, I think it's changing drastically, and I think it's really with the population that's 30 or 35 and under. And I just want to highlight -- I've been lecturing about this change, both in al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, you know, since the beginning of the year, because I think they're becoming more attracted to these disaffected groups because they feel disenfranchised where they are. They feel disaffected. We have to find a way to address that. I think we could be seeing more of this happen with Muslim communities around the U.S.
SAUNDERSI do agree with the two previous callers on the use of fundamentalism, and I try to stay away from that. I really talk about extremists' tools, al-Qaida-like extremist tools. I did mention that earlier on in my comments. But I think that we need to be very, very careful about how groups feel that they're part of the American dream, that they're part of the American value system. And I don't think we're making those same kinds of strides that we did, you know, in the 20th century.
SAUNDERSWe're not making those same kinds of strides in the 21st century, with people feeling that we're all part of the same national fabric. So I do think that we need to be careful. One other thing, in terms of how we address this -- and Paul's comments I totally agree with -- the breakup of Boko Haram was very similar to what you saw happen with al-Shabaab. And that previous caller was absolutely right.
SAUNDERSThey were weakened militarily, but they were also going through a political upheaval of where the direction of al-Shabaab was going to go. And clearly we see the result of that and what happened in Kenya. Similarly, Boko Haram went through the same thing in 2009 when its leader was killed, Mohammed Yusuf. You had this lull for a while, and everyone got very comfortable that they had been, not only militarily weakened, but politically weakened.
SAUNDERSSo we need to be really careful when we have these lulls and what we see, violent activity, to assume that these groups have decided that, you know, they can no longer move forward. I think that that period of silence should be more frightening to us because that means that other things are going on that we either don't have enough intelligence on or that we need to get smarter on.
KAYOK. That's a very good point, that we should be as wary of the silence perhaps as we are -- because it's a prelude quite often to action. Congressman Peter King, who serves on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, has said that it's important right now for the FBI to go to communities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul, to Portland, Maine. This is where the Somalia American community is based. What do you think of that approach?
SAUNDERSI think that that's probably the wrong approach, actually.
KAYYou talk about trying to integrate American Muslims into the fabric of American society.
SAUNDERSI think that's probably the wrong approach. I think that you have very, very strong community leaders that we all need to be working with so that we build this sense of the national fiber. I think that having FBI agents go into these communities is really -- really might have, I guess, the opposite reaction because they feel targeted that way in terms of they're all being lumped together and that they become the target of anger from other Americans. I think that we need to reach out to community leaders.
SAUNDERSYou've heard the comments that have come out of community leaders not only in Kenya, but in Minnesota and St. Paul. So I think we need to be letting the leaders, who they identify with, who they have a relationship with, really work them in terms of trying to address this disenfranchisement and this disaffectedness that some of the younger people are feeling in today's America.
KAYPaul, you used to work at the CIA. Do you think what we've seen happened in Nairobi, and looking at the communities in places like Minnesota means that you'd see a step up in monitoring of communications, for example, between members of those communities and people perhaps in the Horn of Africa?
PILLARWell, we can assume that, you know, within the limits of the law -- and we've heard a lot about that law in recent weeks -- that that sort of monitoring would have been taking place all along.
KAYIs there more that can happen, in terms of monitoring?
PILLARI think the trend of public opinion and the political sense in Congress is not too increase the extent of such activities, but to worry more about how it should be curtailed.
DREAZENI wish I shared that optimism. There may be that sentiment in Congress, but the intelligence communities themselves have shown little to no willingness to actually do that. They've shown, if anything, a willingness to obscure the oversight courts, to obscure from Congress the extent of what they're doing. You know, there's been a question for quite some time -- and it's kind of the harder-edge question to what the Ambassador raised -- of what should the FBI do? When you look at the -- or, for that matter, the New York Police Department.
DREAZENThe New York Police Department has had mosques under surveillance using a very, very creative and arguably unconstitutional use of federal criminal law by looking at criminal enterprises. They've done that on an enormous scale to try to find radicalized Muslims inside New York. So you may have Congress saying to curtail this, whether the FBI, the NSA -- whether they listen to that, whether they actually do curtail it is a very, very different question and one that, I think, the answer is probably no.
KAYI'm Katty Kay. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We will be taking more of your calls in just a minute. 1-800-433-8850 is the number. Paul, you wanted to jump in?
PILLARWell, I just have to observe -- and I disagree with my friend Yochi on this -- that what we are seeing in all this controversy with regard to the NSA monitoring, you know, reflects the changes in American public mood in the 12 years since 9/11. And the mood changes as time goes by when we don't have a major attack, and then suddenly we seem surprised when the agencies have been doing what they were pushed to do all along in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
KAYOK. I don't want to get into a conversation about the NSA surveillance, but I do think it is important to focus on, if we find out, Yochi, that there were Americans involved in this Westgate Mall terrorist attack, what then? What does that mean in terms of America's relationship with that community?
DREAZENI mean, I think inevitably whether, as the Ambassador thinks, it's the wrong approach, whether we think it's the right approach, inevitably that community will come under a greater surveillance. If you think back to the Christmas Day bombing where you had a radicalized Nigerian not tied to some of the groups we've been talking about today -- but he tried to down an American jetliner. You had communities of Nigerians elsewhere in the world -- not simply here, but also in England -- come under great surveillance. Whether we think it's the right approach, it's the inevitable approach.
KAYOK. Let's go back to the phones to Fred, in Manchester, Conn. Fred, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
FREDI just want to make a comment, you know, about the level of security, you know, that you usually see when you visit Africa. And I'm originally from Ghana. And I'm a veteran of the Iraq War, and whenever I go to Ghana or any other African country, I worry about the level of security, you know, when you visit some of these malls.
FREDYou know, thanks to the Islamic growth in Africa now, you're starting to see these Western-style malls, and, you know, you realize that most Westerners, when they go to Africa, you know, they enjoy visiting or congregating in all of these places, which is normal.
FREDBut I believe that it is time for African leaders or, you know, at least intelligent officials to start looking at providing, you know, offensive security, you know, in terms of, you know, basically protecting these places because terrorism, as we've come to know, it's not only isolated to the U.S. or Europe. It's Africa. It's, you know, it's becoming a very big target now.
KAYThat's a very good point, Fred. And, of course, I suspect that, coming out of this, we are going to see stepped-up security at least in Nairobi in the mall there. Do Westerners, do you think, when they visit Africa now, Yochi, are they going to have to -- in light of what's happened over the course of the last four days -- have a rethink about their security?
DREAZENI think in the short term, yes. But it will fade quickly. I mean, the inevitability -- we see it even here. There's a shooting. People get justifiably worked up, get justifiably heartbroken, and then life goes back to normal. You know, there are limits on what you could do to have a normal life. Nairobi is a booming city. This way -- and to get to the point that Fred made, this was a well-defended mall.
DREAZENThis wasn't simply a mall chosen randomly. This was a mall that had been specifically designed to resist this kind of attack. And it was overcome regardless. It gets back to the ambassador's earlier point on tactical sophistication. They knew how to get into a very well-guarded mall, carry out this carnage. This, again, wasn't simply a random mall.
KAYSo you would have had to go through security, some kind of security check to get into the mall?
DREAZENYeah, I mean, some of this was set up with Israeli help.
PILLARThis is not unique to Africa. And, even if there were special efforts made to secure this particular mall, you can't have a large shopping mall conducting business without it being inherently vulnerable in important respects. And that's something we always have to remember with regard to our own public facilities here in the United States.
KAYAnd, of course, it will be the case in Africa as well. This situation, still ongoing, we should stress, in Nairobi, Kenya, we don't have all the details yet. But thank you, all of you, Yochi Dreazen, senior writer of the Foreign Policy Magazine, Paul Pillar, from Georgetown University and former CIA National Intelligence officer, Robin Saunders, former American ambassador to Nigeria and the Republic of Congo. Thank you all for joining me for this fascinating discussion on al-Shabaab and this Kenyan situation.
SAUNDERSThank you. Thank you very much.
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC. I've been sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane will be back next Monday. At the moment, she is in California in a play, but she looks very much forward to joining you all again next week. Thanks for listening.
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