A new video released by Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, that encourages attacks against “American and Jewish-owned shopping centers around the world,” highlights the role of anti-Semitism in terrorist narrative.
The video focused on Al Shabaab’s September 2013 siege of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which lasted for three days and resulted in at least 67 fatalities. At the time of the attack, Al Shabaab claimed to have targeted that mall because it had “Jewish and American owned” shops. The new video affirmed Al Shabaab’s interest in Jewish targets.
Its release comes as other terrorist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al Qaeda, have issued calls for homegrown attacks in the West as they vie against each other for power and followers.
“Westgate shopping mall…is a four-story Israeli-owned complex,” the video’s narrator stated, and in response to the attack, “Israeli security specialists and FBI teams were…on the ground.” The video also put the nationality “Israeli” first in a list of nationalities of the deceased.
Showcasing the 2013 attack enables Al Shabaab to show off its accomplishments to potential new recruits, but the group also apparently hopes it may inspire copycat attacks. Addressing Western sympathizers, the narrator stated, “We call upon our Muslim brothers, particularly those in the West…. imagine what a dedicated mujahid (fighter) in the West could do to the American and Jewish-owned shopping centers across the world.”
It then went on to issue more specific threats: “What if such an attack was to call in the Mall of America in Minnesota, or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada? Or in London’s Oxford Street, or any of the hundred or so Jewish-owned Westfield shopping centers dotted right across the Western world…”
Although Al Shabaab has not staged any significant attack outside Eastern Africa, it has posed a significant threat to U.S. security. At least 50 U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been charged with providing material support to the group or are believed to have joined it. Some of those citizens are now actively recruiting U.S. citizens to join ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
Another recent Al Shabaab video, released in May 2014, called for lone wolf attacks in the West.
Anti-Semitism is at the core of Islamic extremist ideology, and terrorist groups including Al Shabaab regularly use anti-Semitism to attract and radicalize potential recruits. In the past, Al Shabaab declared an “open battle” against Israel, which it called the “oppressing Zionist entity,” and against Jewish interests in Africa. In an English-language magazine released in 2012, the group called Jews, “the worst enemy of Islam.”
The new video also highlighted the importance of social media as a vehicle for disseminating terrorist propaganda, claiming that “HSM Press (the Al Shabaab Twitter feed) soon became the most credible source of information on the attack,” and noted that Al Shabaab had live-streamed the attack on Twitter. The video itself was circulated on YouTube and on links from Twitter to file-sharing sites.