Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Kenya - Terror spreads Tentacles

Religious terrorism has again raised its ugly head and this time, has struck bang in the middle of a bustling city in East Africa. As the toll of Indians dying in this Kenyan replay of 26/11 reaches 3, the total number of dead has climbed to 68 amongst whom are many of Indian origin as well!

Westgate Mall, Nairobi

The tragedy is somehow more personal as it brought back memories from the time I had stayed in Nairobi in a service apartment right next to the Westgate mall. It also brought back terrible memories of being holed up inside the house for three days when Mumbai was under a similar attack from Pakistani terrorists!! Kenya has a sizeable Indian population and the images captured from this incident could very well have belonged to any Indian metro!

This is how the incident took shape - Masked gunmen stormed into a crowded mall in Nairobi on Saturday and shot dead at least 68 people and wounded more than 175 in one of the most chilling terrorist attacks in East Africa.

The mall, called Westgate, is an impressive five-story building where Kenyans shop for expensive stuff and is also popular with expatriates. A cooking competition was taking place at the mall at the time, and hosting the contest and among the dead was Ruhila Adatia-Sood, a Nairobi local who was a popular TV and radio presenter.

Sood was six months pregnant and posing happily for Instagram photos in the minutes before the attack. One of these showed her with the popular Indian Radio-Africa journalist Kamal Kaur. Kaur, who was with her own two young children, said the attackers threw a grenade at the crowd before shooting. One bullet narrowly missed her son before ricocheting off a wall and killing another child next to her.

Several witnesses said the attackers had shouted for Muslims to run away while they picked off other shoppers, executing them one by one.  

Parents hurled their bodies over their children, people jumped into ventilation shafts to save themselves, and shoppers huddled behind the plastic mannequins of designer clothing stores as two squads of gunmen moved through the mall, shooting shoppers in the head. Hours later, the mall’s gleaming floors were smeared with blood as police officers dashed through the corpse-strewn corridors, trying to find the assailants. 

"Al Shabab", an Islamist militant group based in Somalia, took responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for Kenya’s military operations in Somalia against the group, which is al Qaeda's proxy in Somalia.

The Shabab, used to control large parts of Somalia, imposing a harsh and often brutal version of Islam in their territory. They have beheaded civilians and buried teenage girls up to their necks in sand and stoned them to death!! But in the past two years, the African Union forces, including the Kenyans, have pushed the Shabab out of most of their strongholds. The worry now, current and former American officials said that this attack could be the start of a comeback. 

Until the Westgate attack, the group made no effort to spare Muslim civilians, hitting packed restaurants, bus stations and a government building where hundreds of students were awaiting test results. And until his death in 2011, Osama bin Laden refused to allow Shabab into the Al Qaeda network, according to letters retrieved from his safehouse in Pakistan.

In a letter to Shabab in 2010, bin Laden politely advised the Somali-based fighters to review their operations "in order to minimize the toll to Muslims." Shabab did not get the green light to join Al Qaeda until February 2012, almost a year after bin Laden's death. In an email exchange this week with The Associated Press, it made its intentions clear: "The Mujahideen carried out a meticulous vetting process at the mall and have taken every possible precaution to separate the Muslims from the Kuffar before carrying out their attack."

In the bizarre game of life or death, they killed those who failed to name the Prophet Muhammed’s mother and spared those who could!! 

A 14-year-old boy saved himself by jumping off the mall's roof, after learning from friends inside that they were quizzed on names of the Prophet Muhammad's relatives. A Jewish man scribbled a Quranic scripture on his hand to memorize, after hearing the terrorists were asking captives to recite specific verses. As the gunmen opened fire with assault rifles, Westgate was plunged into mayhem and carnage. People ran out screaming, and victims soaked in their own blood were wheeled out in shopping carts. They showed no mercy to even pregnant women and slaughtered a young couple just two weeks before their first child was to be born along with the yet-to-be-born baby!

Time and again religious fundamentalism hits unsuspecting innocent people all over the globe. Yet, there is a reluctance among people to label it as RELIGIOUS terrorism and instead just use the latter term. I find it surprising that even in today's age of information and education, people are STILL unwilling to recognize this violence for what it is!

The attack has come at a time when several violent Islamist groups all espousing an anti-Western, anti-Christian creed are striking at state authority and international interests in many countries in Africa. The three Indians who lost their lives - Sudharshan B. Nagaraj from Bangalore, Sridhar Natarajan from Tamil Nadu and the 8 year old Paramshu Jain were all victims of a travesty that has NO PLACE in a civilized world!

The ripples from the attack reached as far as Trinidad, with a research economist called Ravindra Ramrattan named among the dead. The winner of a presidential gold medal in Trinidad for his academic prowess, Ramrattan, succumbed to the bullets of terrorists. The most high profile victim, and among the first to be named, was Kofi Awoonor, a Ghanaian poet and academic, and former diplomat. The Kenyan president's nephew was also one of the casualties in the dastardly attack!

At least 175 people were wounded or injured in the attack, including 11 Kenyan soldiers, and about 1,000 were rescued. Bodies were still sprawled on the mall’s front steps hours afterward, and woozy shoppers continued to emerge from the stores where they had been hiding to save their lives.


Whether one accepts it or not, RELIGIOUS TERRORISM is a reality and no one can just wish it away. And it's not limited to one religion alone; every religion in the world has practiced it at some point in its history. 

The Romans persecuted early Christians; Christians prosecuted Jews; Invading Muslims destroyed Hindu temples and killed Hindus/Sikhs/Buddhists/Jains in thouands while Buddhists in Myanmar are today persecuting the Rohingya muslims!!

All over the world there is growing intolerance for others' religion and ethnicity. Post 9/11, the suspicion with which every BROWN man or woman was seen in the US was scary to say the least! For a while it seemed only White Christians were above suspicion in the world! Many Sikhs faced brutality in their mistaken identity of being an Arab (because of their turbans) in US as well as UK.

More recently, when an American girl of Indian origin won the Miss America title, there were racial slurs calling her an Arab and a terrorist!!

And the grass isn't greener on the other side of this fence! The hatred of America and the 'West' has become so visceral in the Muslim world that their is complete REFUSAL to accept any responsibility for what's happening in the name of Islam! Any news that comes out of torture or destruction by Jihadi forces is immediately termed as American propaganda without any attempt to self-analyze what's going wrong with the Muslim youth.

Worst still, it may even be seen as justified on the premise that US has killed so many innocent civilians in its drone attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

But people forget that whoever is responsible, it is the INNOCENTS who die! You can't justify your vendetta of killing innocents based on a grievance cause by twisted political agendas. Let religion and politics be separate for the sake of our future! Just two days back, there was a blast in a historical Church in Pakistan which took the life of 78 people who were targeted by Islamic terrorists!

Victims of Peshawar's Church blast


This FUNDAMENTALISM should be recognized as a genuine problem if we REALLY wish to find a solution to it. Denying its existence would be behaving like the proverbial pigeon who closes its eyes and hopes the cat would disappear! It is disappointing that today's educated youth instead of following the true principles of religion choose to follow the extremist fanaticism that many believe will open the gates of heaven for them in the after-life.

If you can't even love your fellow beings and live your life spreading vitriol in this world, what guarantee do you have of even REACHING Heaven in the first place, let alone being happy there! 

The only solution it seems in current circumstances is to give less importance to RELIGION and more to HUMANITY! Denial WILL NOT give us Safety. Hoping for an open debate on this issue so that we can save more innocents in the future from such meaningless violence in the name of religion!

Praying for the souls of the slain Indians and people of other nationalities
May their souls Rest in peace..