One day after a double-bombing in Mogadishu, al-Shabaab released a video calling for attacks on malls in the West including the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. The video addressed the deadly 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall in Kenya which killed over 60 people and lasted four days. At the end of the video, a masked figure asks:
“If just a handful of mujahedeen fighters could bring Kenya to a complete standstill for nearly a week then imagine what a dedicated mujahedeen in the West could do to the American or Jewish-owned shopping centers across the world?”
He goes on to name several western malls, before encouraging viewers to “hurry up, hasten towards heaven and do not hesitate.”
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said that US intelligence has not yet identified a credible threat, but urged shoppers to exercise caution in light of the video. The Mall of America has implemented heightened security, according to their statement. However, the lack of a credible, organized threat does not preclude the possibility of a “lone wolf” attack on any of the aforementioned sites or others throughout the West. A lone gunman or small group could wreak havoc in a soft target such as a major shopping mall before being taken down by law enforcement personnel. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has the largest Somali population in the US, and has been a recruiting ground for al-Shabaab in the past. However, US officials currently do not believe that extremists within the country are likely to respond to this video with an attack.
This threatening video serves as evidence that al-Shabaab will continue to pursue both local objectives in Somalia as well as global jihad against the West. The group emerged as a militia aligned with the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in Mogadishu in 2006 and splintered off as an independent organization after Ethiopian forces dismantled the ICU. Under former leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, al-Shabaab announced its formal relationship with al-Qaeda. Despite this shift towards a balance of international and national interests, most of al-Shabaab’s attacks have come in East Africa- particularly in countries involved in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) which has collaborated with Somali forces to drive al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu and the key port of Kismayo. Godane was killed in September of 2014 but it appears that his successor, Ahmed Umar, is continuing al-Shabaab’s dual mission.
The death toll from al-Shabaab’s latest major attack has reached 25, with around 40 wounded. Two bombers struck a Mogadishu hotel on February 20th – one using a vehicle to deliver explosives to the front gate and another who detonated their device inside. An al-Shabaab spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack which killed the deputy mayor of Mogadishu and two lawmakers.