Group behind Somali mall attack calls to target the West. Reaction from former FBI special agent Tim Clemente
One day after a double-bombing in Mogadishu, al-Shabaab released a video calling for attacks on malls in the West including the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. The video addressed the deadly 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall in Kenya which killed over 60 people and lasted four days. At the end of the video, a masked figure asks:
“If just a handful of mujahedeen fighters could bring Kenya to a complete standstill for nearly a week then imagine what a dedicated mujahedeen in the West could do to the American or Jewish-owned shopping centers across the world?”
He goes on to name several western malls, before encouraging viewers to “hurry up, hasten towards heaven and do not hesitate.”
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said that US intelligence has not yet identified a credible threat, but urged shoppers to exercise caution in light of the video. The Mall of America has implemented heightened security, according to their statement. However, the lack of a credible, organized threat does not preclude the possibility of a “lone wolf” attack on any of the aforementioned sites or others throughout the West. A lone gunman or small group could wreak havoc in a soft target such as a major shopping mall before being taken down by law enforcement personnel. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has the largest Somali population in the US, and has been a recruiting ground for al-Shabaab in the past. However, US officials currently do not believe that extremists within the country are likely to respond to this video with an attack.
This threatening video serves as evidence that al-Shabaab will continue to pursue both local objectives in Somalia as well as global jihad against the West. The group emerged as a militia aligned with the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in Mogadishu in 2006 and splintered off as an independent organization after Ethiopian forces dismantled the ICU. Under former leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, al-Shabaab announced its formal relationship with al-Qaeda. Despite this shift towards a balance of international and national interests, most of al-Shabaab’s attacks have come in East Africa- particularly in countries involved in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) which has collaborated with Somali forces to drive al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu and the key port of Kismayo. Godane was killed in September of 2014 but it appears that his successor, Ahmed Umar, is continuing al-Shabaab’s dual mission.
The death toll from al-Shabaab’s latest major attack has reached 25, with around 40 wounded. Two bombers struck a Mogadishu hotel on February 20th – one using a vehicle to deliver explosives to the front gate and another who detonated their device inside. An al-Shabaab spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack which killed the deputy mayor of Mogadishu and two lawmakers.
American Malls Are Threatened by Somalian Terrorists — and the DHS Secretary Is Warning Shoppers of the Danger, The Blaze, by Zach Noble, Feb. 23, 2015:
It’s a chilling, very specific message — and it had Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warning shoppers of the threat.
After Somalia-based terror group al-Shabab released a video calling for attacks on shopping malls throughout the U.S., U.K. and Canada, Johnson took to CNN Sunday morning to advise caution.
“If anyone is planning to go to the Mall of America today, they’ve got to be particularly careful,” Johnson told CNN’s Gloria Borger. ”There will be enhanced security there, but public vigilance, public awareness and public caution in situations like this is particularly important, and it’s the environment we’re in, frankly.”
The Minnesota Mall of America was one of the malls listed by name in al-Shabab’s Saturday video, and has promised to boost security measures.
As CNN noted, al-Shabab could have special pull in Minneapolis due to the city being home to America’s largest Somali population.
The call to shopping mall violence harkens back to al-Shabab’s 2013 terror attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya — an attack in which several Americans were reported to have participated.
In 2013, For the Record reported that terror group al-Shabab could be planning an attack on The Mall of America:
Al Shabaab Threatens Mall Attacks in the US, Canada and UK, by Jerry Gordon, at NER:
In NER articles in 2009 and 2013 we drew attention to the possible US Mall attack scenarios. After the devastating 2013 Westlake Mall episode, we wrote:
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.
At Clarion Project, Ryan Mauro analyzes the new al Shabaab video in terms of the group’s desire to compete with the Islamic State, their desire to attack within the United States and ability to do so: