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Tourism scrambles as lethal tweeting terrorists hit Kenya

September 23, 2013 DESTINATION, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Western governments scrambled to issue advisory warnings for their citizens visiting Kenya as a gang of Islamist fanatics went on a murderous spree at an upmarket Nairobi shopping mall, shooting as many shoppers as they could and blowing up others with hand grenades.

Kenya is highly dependent on tourism and President Uhuru Kenyatta implored foreign governments not to issue travel advisories against Kenya. That would only play into the hands of the “cowards” who had carried out “despicable and beastly acts”, he said, adding that such terrorism could happen anywhere in the world.

But many countries, including Australia, had already issued advisories, as they are bound to, to protect their citizens.

The gunmen, reported to have beards and turbans and not to resemble local Kenyans, tweeted as they shot – proclaiming their brutal acts on social media.

Somali Islamist group al Shabaab, linked to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the atrocity. Somalia has a long border with Kenya.

The official Twitter account of the press office for Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, better known as al-Shabaab.

The official Twitter account of the press office for Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, better known as al-Shabaab.

The Guardian reported that the gunmen ordered Muslims out of the mall in Kenya’s capital and released them “if they could prove their religion by reciting a prayer or answering a question on Islam”. The gunmen killed those who failed the test.

Several foreigners, including a person holding dual Australian and British citizenship, and a Canadian diplomat, are among the dead. As well as Kenyans, British, French, Canadians, Americans, Chinese, a Ghanaian and a New Zealand citizen have been killed or injured. The dead included children, and the wounded (said to number up to 300) ranged in age from 2 to 78.

President Kenyatta said his nephew and his nephew’s fiancée had been killed. The toll this morning rose to at least 68 dead, with maybe 30 hostages still inside the building.

In its revised advisory, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) warned Australians visiting Kenya to exercise a “high degree of caution” (the same level of advice as before) but added the following information yesterday under its Safety and Security section:

“Terrorism (a major security incident took place at the Westgate shopping centre in the Westlands district of Nairobi on 21 September 2013.  The situation is ongoing with reports of a number of casualties and hostages.  Kenyan authorities have implemented heightened security arrangements in Nairobi.  Australians should monitor local media and avoid public places for the next 24-48 hours).

“We continue to advise Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in Kenya overall at this time due to the high risk of terrorist attack, civil unrest and high crime levels in the country.  We also continue to strongly advise Australians not to travel to border regions with Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan, because of the extremely dangerous security situation.”

Over a year ago, as early as April 2012, DFAT issued the following warning: “Somali-based militants have threatened to launch attacks in Kenya in retaliation for military operations within Somalia by Kenyan security forces. Attacks could occur in any part of Kenya, including at locations frequented by Westerners.”

That is precisely what has happened. Kenya intervened in Somalia after guerrillas and bandit gangs from Somalia launched incursions into Kenyan territory and kidnapped several tourists.

Britain’s DFAT equivalent, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against all but essential travel to within 60 kilometres of the Kenya-Somali border; to Kiwayu and coastal areas north of Pate Island; to Garissa District; to the Eastleigh area of Nairobi; and to low-income areas of Nairobi, including all township or slum areas.

Islamist fanatics have been behind a number of recent terrorist atrocities in Africa. The extremist Islamic sect Boko Haram (whose name means “western education is forbidden” in local Hausa language), has staged a series of attacks in northern Nigeria, blowing up Christian churches with worshippers inside, and attacking schools and other targets.

Unlike Nigeria, which receives few tourists, Kenya is a major tourism country. Tourism is Kenya’s largest foreign exchange earner and an economic mainstay. Tourists, mainly from Germany and Britain, but also from Australia, are attracted by game reserves, safari lodges and coastal beaches.

Al-Shabaab has carried out attacks before. As notes: “What is new is the degree to which al-Shabaab in particular makes use of social media to broadcast its side of the story directly to the public.”

In a small victory, Twitter was reported yesterday to have suspended the group’s account.

Written by Peter Needham

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