At least 147 people have lost their lives in Al Shabaab’s latest attack on Kenya.
Earlier this morning, as they stormed central Kenya’s Garissa University College, the four terrorists singled out Christian students. They took some hostage and executed others where they stood. The Kenyan government asserts that Mohamed Kuno, a senior Al Shabaab leader and former Islamic school teacher, orchestrated this attack.
What happened today was designed to send a clear message from Al Shabaab to the people of Kenya and the world: “We continue to pose a major threat.”
Since its attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall in September 2013, Al Shabaab has suffered some serious losses. Alongside setbacks from factionalist infighting, Al Shabaab has lost territory and personnel to a mix of African Union forces and U.S. drone and air strikes (a U.S. strike last September killed the group’s former leader, Ahmed Godane). The group has been desperate to hold territory and restore its strategic presence. In its effort to compete with ISIS in the propaganda struggle for support, Al Shabaab recently released a video that threatened attacks on Western malls. Today’s attack follows in a recent trend of atrocities designed to restore the group’s credibility.
Last November, Al Shabaab fighters murdered 28 bus passengers along the Kenya-Somalia border. Those who lost their lives were targeted for a simple reason: Al Shabaab believed they weren’t Muslims. Last December, Al Shabaab fighters carried out another attack. Raiding a Kenyan quarry, the terrorists separated out non-Muslim workers, lined them up, and executed them with shots to the head.
The group’s focus on murdering Christians isn’t surprising. As with ISIS, which has been murdering Egyptian Copts, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has been spewing anti-Christian rants, Al Shabaab has made a fetish of demonizing and slaughtering non-Muslims. This fetish isn’t only about ideological satisfaction; it’s deployed to attract the Gulf fundraisers and global recruits these groups need if they are to thrive. In Kenya specifically, it’s also likely that Al Shabaab attacked Christians to spark a civil war between Kenya’s Christian population and Kenya’s Muslim minority. Like ISIS, Al Shabaab wants to force civilians into political extremism, delegitimize civil governance, destabilize society, and thus increase its own base of support. While Kenya won’t fall for the terrorists’ plot, its Christian population clearly faces a growing threat.
Still, this isn’t just a matter of Al Shabaab attacking Christians. Al Shabaab has no qualms about murdering innocent Muslims as well. After all, in February, the group launched a bomb-and-gun assault on Somali government officials while they attended meetings at a hotel and prayed in its Mosque. Al Shabaab hates all who do not yield to its fanatical rule. And today, joining ideological compatriots such as Boko Haram and the Pakistani Taliban, Al Shabaab has shown its hateful intentions for the world: to make a world of terror in which innocent students are murdered as they sleep.
— Tom Rogan is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and holds the Tony Blankley chair at the Steamboat Institute.