The massacre at Kenya’s Westgate Mall, and the continuing siege by Kenya’s armed forces against the terrorists inside, have horrified the world. Over 60 people are dead after attackers from Somalia’s Al-Shabaab group stormed the high-end shopping center.
Speaking to the UN General Assembly Tuesday morning, President Obama addressed the changing threat of terrorism. “The world is more stable than it was five years ago,” he said. “But even a glance at today’s headlines indicates the dangers that remain. In Kenya, we’ve seen terrorists target innocent civilians in a crowded shopping mall. In Pakistan, nearly 100 people were recently killed by suicide bombers outside a church. In Iraq, killings and car bombs continue to be a horrific part of life.”
Could a similar terrorist attack on a mall happen here? Would it? There’s a couple things worth keeping in mind.
There are precedents for these armed attacks of this scale, but the circumstances are not like what we see in the US. Westgate Mall was attacked by men representing an armed force fighting a civil war in neighboring Somalia. The 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India were reportedly orchestrated by neighboring Pakistan, which has been fighting with India for decades. In both cases, tourist attractions were targeted, the attackers used small arms, and the fighting went on for days. There aren’t similar circumstances for a mass of attackers to descend on an American mall.
The Boston Marathon bombing is a more likely example of what could happen again. The bombing in Boston had similar targets to Mumbai and Westgate: Tourists and locals at a high-profile public location. The bombers in that case were from Chechnya, another country that has been fighting a civil war for decades. But they were only two men using unsophisticated materials, and the scale of their attack was smaller: The bombs killed four people, and wounded hundreds.
Extended lockdowns like we saw after the Boston marathon could happen again. When authorities put parts of Boston on lockdown following the marathon bombing, it was unprecedented, and it went incredible smoothly. The Mumbai attack went on for days, and the siege on Westgate is still ongoing. All this suggests what we already know: It’s a good idea to have an emergency kit ready to go so you and your family have a plan if you’re locked in for days.