Kenya Attack Foreshadows the Rise of Soft Targets
Policy + Politics

Kenya Attack Foreshadows the Rise of Soft Targets

REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

The death toll at the luxury mall in Kenya rose to 62 today, as Kenyan security forces seized the mall while continuing to hunt for the attackers-- an al Qaeda-affiliated militia called al-Shabab. 

The Westgate Premier Shopping Mall, located in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, is a popular with wealthy Kenyans and tourists alike. It’s been called an oasis in the sprawling capital city, with restaurants, a movie theater and a casino. It holds no military or strategic value: it’s the very definition of a soft target.

As recent terrorist attacks show, soft targets are vulnerable and much easier to pull off than large-scale operations like 9/11 or the 2005 London tube bombing. The Boston Marathon was a soft target. So was the solider who was beheaded in London by two Muslim extremists. Now, the Westgate Premier Shopping Mall can be added to that list.

Kenya is also an unlikely place for a terror attack. And while Kenya has had bouts with violence in recent years, the country is relatively stable. Unlike other African countries like Nigeria and the Central African Republic, it does not have a history of extremism.

Al Shabab just changed that. The group was responsible for some minor incidents near Kenya’s border with Somalia. But it had never acted on such a large scale, nor had it struck in large cities like Nairobi.

That’s all changed. Al Shabab has announced it to the world. And it’s informed us that the places we think are safe have now become targets.