Al-Shabaab’s attack on Nairobi, Kenya’s Westgate Mall was explicitly described by the militants as retaliation for Kenya’s military invasion of southern Somalia, a territory they control.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is trying to spin it differently, however, saying the siege proves al-Shabaab’s graduation to an international faction with international capabilities, and pushing the idea that the group could launch comparable attacks inside the United States.
But is hitting neighboring Kenya, something al-Shabaab has been doing regularly, the same as organizing a major attack on the other side of the planet? For the Somali government, the answer is yes, but since they have been hyping the “threat” of al-Shabaab for years to court international subsidies, it’s hard to take their word for it uncritically.
Still and all, there will be a market for it, especially with Rep. Peter King (R – NY) already pushing the idea of ethnic Somalis being a threat to national security, and stories of Somali-Americans going to fight in Somalia continue to be hyped.
The reality, however, is that al-Shabaab has never shown capability outside of the region, and has successfully launched a few major attacks in African nations which have sent troops to Somalia, but never shown up overseas.