By Ben Ochieng
NAIROBI, Sept. 24 (Xinhua) -- The siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi by a group of Al-Shabaab militants played out before the eyes of stunned Kenyans like a movie.
This is the deadliest act of terrorism since the 1998 U. S. Embassy bombings in Nairobi, which killed over 100 people, both Kenyans and Americans.
The Al-Qaida linked Somali militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack on the upscale shopping mall that has killed at least 62 civilians by official count and wounded more than 175 others.
Al-Shabaab's spokesman for military operations Sheikh Abulaziz Abu Muscab gave the reason for the attack as being borne out of Kenyan troops incursion into southern Somalia, saying intervention launched in October 2011 effectively reduced their power in Somalia after denying them control of border towns.
He said the militant group attacked two years down the line because Al-Shabaab's aim is to attack their enemy when they least expect a strike.
"This time they were least expecting an attack. We chose when to attack and best time to attack," he said in a message.
Abu Muscab gave a very revealing line as to their choice of target, saying it was informed by the fact that it was a place frequented by tourists from across the world who came to shop, diplomats and Kenya's decision-makers and a place of American and Jewish-owned shops.
He also corroborated earlier reports that they released all Muslims when they took control of the mall because Al-Shabab works to control Muslims and Somalis in particular.
Jonathan Kosgei, the Director of Police Reforms at the Kenya Police Service, says the security forces did their best to contain the situation under the prevailing circumstances, adding that it is always an uphill task anywhere to deter acts of terrorism.
"The terrorist will always have the upper hand against the attacked. He knows where to attack and when to attack. Others can only react."
He says though security measures are taken at most checkpoints leading to public places and offices in Nairobi and other urban areas, this alone is not sufficient to stop an armed assault.
"There is not much a vulnerable guard can do after detecting the presence of armed people other than raising the alarm or running for his life. Most of these checkpoints are for deterrent purposes as opposed to protective measures."
Julius Mwangi, a security expert in Nairobi says most of mall security is aimed at retail theft protection, as well as life safety like fires and other emergencies, but were not designed to rapidly respond to an attack like Westgate.
"It is hard to imagine a softer target than an enclosed, easy to enter space with large numbers of civilians, many of them children, milling about with no authority clearly in charge especially on a relaxed weekend." Mwangi, who runs a private security firm Kamaliza, says it is not possible to police every building in the country and that it would be stretching the matter too far by expecting the security agencies to have been at hand to deter the terrorist act.
He says terrorists are very smart people in as much as they are wicked who choose their targets well in order to inflict maximum pain and derive great publicity.
"Their choice of Westgate Mall was not by happenstance. By targeting an up market facility frequented by such a high-class clientele, they knew they would mete out utmost pain and receive the desired publicity They would not have obtained the desired results had they targeted a derelict area of the city."
The attack has also brought to reality the fact that there is no 100 percent safety and any situation could make you vulnerable if other people or another person is out there determined to conduct an attack.
While analysts have pointed out that by separating Muslims from non-Muslims during the attack Al-Shabaab was apparently playing the religious card, Kenyans have been warned against playing into the insurgents' hands by attacking their Muslim counterparts.
"Such assault has in the past triggered retaliatory as riots or reprisals in Eastleigh district of Nairobi against innocent Somalis," the security said. "We however caution against revenge game as this will be playing directly into the hands of the militants, and in the process whipping nationalistic sentiments," cautions the security expert.
Attacks inside Kenya have occurred periodically in recent years, but they have been limited to the border area near Garisssa or the work of Al-Shabaab sympathizers in Eastleigh, making this most recent attack a clear shift by the militants to stage a larger attack in a vulnerable, yet higher profile area that would demonstrate its ongoing credibility and counter criticism that it has been defeated.
Patrick Omanga, a Nairobi-based psychologist, says a terrorist mind is one of the most complex to interpret.
"It is extremely difficult to counter the activities of a person who has set his mind for a cause, however unworthy. The sad thing is that whereas the false leaders preach the gospel as they hide, it is the thousands of their followers who are willing to blow themselves up in the name of filling a mission."
Undoubtedly, the times and places for the terror attack have been selected for a long time. The destruction of Westgate was not planned the day before. This disaster was planned at least one and probably two years, some analysts said.