The Evil of Global Jihad
This past weekend makes clear the jihadi path.

Kenyan soldiers confront Islamist militants in Nairobi.



“There will be no negotiations whatsoever.” — Al-Shabab spokesman

Nairobi’s Westgate mall is more than a retail center. It’s a social hub — a space for shared enjoyment and community celebration. It’s also a place for kids. In fact, a children’s event was taking place on Saturday. Then the jihadists turned up and turned it into a death trap. And that’s not all they did this weekend.

Rampaging through a mall.

Attacking a funeral in Iraq.

Blowing up worshipers in a Pakistani church.

This weekend has verified the identity of the global jihadist movement: a death cult that finds spiritual unity in the murder of innocents.

Let’s be clear. Westgate was attacked for two reasons. First, in its public character, the mall offered al-Shabab an opportunity to spread terror across all of Kenyan society. Second, packed with families, Westgate offered the terrorists hundreds of strategic pawns. In its killing sprees, al-Shabab seeks a new regional understanding: that its resolve is supreme above all others. That unless its adversaries yield, more Westgates will follow.

At a basic level, al-Shabab’s strategy is far from original. By definition, terrorism involves the deliberate cultivation of fear as a political tool.

Yet modern Salafi Jihadism takes this dynamic to an unprecedented level. It has the instinctive reflex toward unrestrained brutality. Gratuitous violence guarantees attention. Think about the Iraq war. The image of masked assailants sawing off the heads of bound and terrified prisoners is seared indelibly into our memory.

Of course, this raises a key question: How do the jihadists excuse their atrocities?

In the blend of theocratic absolutism and perverse consequentialism. From the jihadist perspective, their violence is justified in the service of God’s intrinsic will.

Grappling with this notion of ordained will is crucial. It affords us insight into the existential rigidity with which these terrorists regard the world. In short, Salafi Jihadists claim that the price of peace is our non-interference — they hint that our acquiescence will buy us our safety. They’re lying. Theirs is an ideology with a supra-national (and, as they see it, divine) pursuit — a global caliphate of absolute power. Take al-Shabab. As Beifuss and Bellini note in their study of terrorist iconography, Branding Terror, al-Shabab’s logo, a rifle-sheltered Koran sitting upon a green globe, is unmistakably clear in its prevailing message: This group will never find satisfaction in local politics.

Iraq’s recent history offers us a guide to al-Shabab’s likely path.

In 2006–07, as a flood of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) car bombs drove Iraq toward functional oblivion, many claimed that an American military withdrawal would engender political reconciliation. They believed that the presence of American forces was providing the fuel for AQI extremism. The fallacy of their argument is proved in today’s Iraq. Now, in America’s absence, AQI has morphed into the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Salafist pretense of a nationalist-Islamic resistance has given way to ISIL’s ultimate ideal of a regional political implosion.

It says much about the Salafi Jihadist movement that chaos and despair are its closest allies — the fog of anarchy provides the opening for its borderless brutality.

Faced with these outrages, the responsibility of global civil society is abundantly clear.

Just as we must guard against those who would use atrocities to spread bigotry, so must Salafi Jihadism meet our unhesitating resolve. These terrorists pursue the destruction of democratic society. They want us to believe that opposing them is futile. That they’ve already won.

Instead, faced with their threats, we must furnish something else — a renewed stand against them.

Tom Rogan is a blogger based in Washington, D.C., and a contributor to and the Guardian.


Terror Attack in Kenya
Islamist militants stormed a crowded shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, on September 21, killing at least 68 persons. The gunmen identified themselves as members of Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate group from neighboring Somalia. Here's a look. Pictured, Kenyan military arrive at the scene.
By Sunday, the militants reportedly still held some 30 hostages in a tense stand-off with government forces arrayed inside and outside the mall. Pictured, the view just outside the mall.
Periodic gunfire and explosions have been heard inside the Westgate Shopping Mall since the initial attack. Pictured, Kenyan security forces inside the mall look for militants and trapped civilians.
In statements distributed on social media, the militants blamed Kenyan incursions into Somalia for the attack. Read one Al-Shabaab tweet: “When justice is denied, it must be enforced.” Pictured, patrons in the mall are escorted out by security personnel.
Another message read: “The Mujahideen are still strong inside #Westgate Mall and still holding their ground.” Pictured, security forces take cover on the street outside the mall.
The group claimed it escorted Muslims from the shopping center prior to the attack. Pictured, chaos ensued outside as hundreds of persons fled the violence inside.
Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta issued a defiant statement: “They shall not get away with their despicable, beastly acts. Like the cowardly perpetrators now cornered in the building, we will punish the masterminds swiftly and indeed very painfully.” Pictured, soldiers with the Kenya Defense Force.
DAY OF TERROR: The attack began around noon on Saturday in the sprawling, five-story commercial complex, a popular weekend gathering spot in the nation’s capital. Pictured, tear gas fills one of the mall’s atriums as security forces search for militants.
Customers are seen hiding behind a counter to avoid gunfire.
A security official searches the area near a body of one of the victims.
Searching for militants amid the shops.
Security officials work to clear the mall.
Kenyan military forces arrive on the scene to confront the militants.
Security and military forces moved through the mall to locate victims and militants.
Security and military personnel move shoppers trapped inside the mall during the attack.
A woman exits the air vent where she had taken shelter.
A soldier stands watch as an injured person is carried out of the mall.
Security personnel check fleeing persons to ensure none of the militants is among them.
Shoppers flee the mall under security escort.
Ambulance and rescue personnel arrive on the scene to deal with wounded civilians. Some 170 persons were reported injured in the initial attack.
Paramilitary units patrol the area near the mall.
Kenyan military forces secure the area as the standoff continues inside.
Updated: Sep. 23, 2013