The dust has finally settled from al-Qaeda’s most recent attack in Kenya. The multi-pronged assault took place on 15 January. According to reports, the attack began in the mid afternoon when militants set off a bomb outside the Dusit D2, a luxury hotel in Kenya’s capital Nairobi. The blast was later reported to be from a suicide bomber detonating himself.
Immediately after the explosion was set off, multiple gunmen opened fire at the hotel complex, which includes a hotel, a restaurant, shops and offices. For hours, the militants swept the Dusit D2 looking for victims. All the while, workers stayed huddled in offices and under desks to avoid detection.
According to Kenya’s chief of police, officers began to evacuate as many people as possible from the complex and commenced preliminary action to secure the property even while the gunmen were still on the loose. As night fell, gunfire could still be heard echoing around the site on Nairobi’s Riverside Drive. Clashes between the attackers and Kenyan security forces continued through the night. The following morning, authorities confirmed that all of the gunmen had been neutralized.
Initial reports from police indicated that at least five people had been killed. The toll quickly rose to fourteen as the wounded succumbed to injuries. The final tally now stands at twenty-one dead. Kenyan media confirmed “dozens” were hospitalized after the incident.
Close to Home
In addition to local victims, the attack claimed the lives of several foreigners. The State Department confirmed the day after that American Jason Spindler was among the dead. Spindler, who had survived the September 11th attacks eighteen years earlier, became co-founder and CEO of I-Dev International, a company focused on financial innovations to reduce poverty. He was working in Kenya on a mini-power-grid project tailored for remote areas.
The U.K. national Luke Potter, also murdered in the attack, worked for the charity Gatsby Africa as their Africa programs director. He was in Nairobi working on one of the organization’s charity projects.
Al-Shabaab: the Scourge of Africa
Not long after the attack began, al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-aligned Africa-based Islamist group, quickly claimed responsibility. An al-Shabaab spokesman was actually communicating with media while the attack was still in process. The group officially took responsibility via their Shahada News Telegram channel. Al-Shabaab, while focusing its operations in more northern regions of Africa, is not new to Kenya. In fact, the recent attack comes on the third anniversary of the El Adde assault on Kenyan troops in southern Somalia. El Adde resulted in 150 Kenyan soldiers killed, the Kenyan Defense Forces’ (KDF) worst military defeat ever. In September 2013, the al-Qaeda branch launched a four-day assault on the Westgate Mall where at least 68 people were killed. The jihadist group has also conducted several other major attacks inside Kenya, such as the April 2015 assault on the Garissa University College resulting in 147 people killed.
Moving forward, the Dusit D2 attack will without a doubt trigger a major response on the part of the Kenyan government. This will almost certainly be in tandem with the United States and perhaps other Western partners. The attack unfortunately demonstrates that al-Shabaab still has significant strike capability in Kenya and is able to circumvent authorities’ attempts to crack down. The coming operation by Kenyan security forces will be an attempt to identify and locate any other al-Shabaab assets that have succeeded in penetrating the country.