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Tagged: Al Shabaab, Al Shabab, Analysis, Kenya, Nairobi, Sarit Centre, Security, Somali, Somalia, Terrorism, Terrorist, Terrorist Attack, War, Westgate, Westgate Mall, Westlands.

Of all the things that this week’s attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi was- horrific, tragic, inhuman, revolting- one thing it wasn’t was a surprise, either in terms of location or tactics.

Making Nairobi Somalis suffer for an al Shabaab attack would decrease sympathy for the movement, and also cut one of the al Shabaab’s most lucrative funding sources.

For this reason, a state of tense stability remained within the security context.

Targets of choice for terrorist attacks are those most likely to garner widespread international attention: High-end hotels, embassies, international organizations, tourist hotspots, and places where foreigners and wealthy locals gather, like restaurants and malls.

In mid-2012 I had lunch with a Rwandan friend at Onami, a Japanese restaurant upstairs in the Westgate complex, overlooking the carpark out front.

The general agreement has been that most of the terror attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa were not so much al Shabaab-initiated attacks, but rather were attacks by al Shabaab sympathisers using their own resources and initiative, which the Shabaab was happy to claim for its own propaganda purposes.

It stood out sharply to the Nairobi I’m more familiar with. I still recall walking through the Sarit Centre (Westlands’ main upmarket shopping mall before Westgate was opened) and seeing four uniformed squaddies on their routine patrol, each of them brandishing what looked like PKM light machine-guns, muzzles practically dragging on the poured cement floor.

Walking through an Uchumi supermarket at another centre, I remember a paramilitary policeman perousing the aisles, casually swinging an Uzi by its magazine as though it were nothing more than a baton.

Well-armed security was everywhere in those days, a response to Nairobbery’s skyrocketing crime rate.

Nairobi’s improved crime situation over recent years is partly to account for the shift away from heavy-handed visible security forces- together with improvements in counter-terrorism intelligence and the quality of reaction forces.

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