Al-Shabab – the Al-Qaeda-linked Somali Islamist rebel group – has claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. The attack launched on Saturday on the upscale Westgate shopping mall has killed at least 68 people and wounded more than 150 others. Heavy gunfire continued to ring out early Monday. Al Jazeera’s Hamza Mohamed interviewed al-Shabab’s spokesman for military operations, Sheikh Abulaziz Abu Muscab, as the siege at the mall entered it’s third day. Abulaziz spoke about why the group attacked Nairobi now. He also provided insight into al-Shabab’s relations with the Mombasa Youth Centre, a group the Kenyan government designated as a terrorist organisation.
Al Jazeera: It is more than two years since Kenyan troops went into Somalia to fight al-Shabab. Why did al-Shabab attack Nairobi now?
Sheikh Abulaziz Abu Muscab: We have been late in attacking Nairobi. We did not attack before because they were expecting us to attack. Our aim is to attack our enemy when they least expect us to attack. This time they were not expecting us to attack. We choose when to attack, and best time to attack.
AJ: Is this al-Shabab’s first attack in Nairobi?
SA: Thats not the importing thing. The important thing is it is us who attacked now. It is not important to say we attacked before or not.
AJ: This attack is happening at Westgate Mall, which, when the attack started, was full of shoppers. Why is al-Shabab attacking a place that is full of civilians?
SA: The place we attacked is Westgate shopping mall. It is a place where tourists from across the world come to shop, where diplomats gather. It is a place where Kenya’s decision-makers go to relax and enjoy themselves. Westgate is a place where there are Jewish and American shops. So we have to attack them. On civilian deaths, Kenya should first be asked why they bombed innocent Somali civilians in refugee camps, why they bombed innocent people in Gedo and Jubba regions. They should be asked that first before us.
AJ: Al-Shabab claims to work to protect Muslims and Somalis in particular. Some of the people killed in this attack suggests otherwise.
SA: History supports our claim. We are the only ones protecting Somalis and Somalia. We are the only group fighting Somalia’s historic enemies. We are the only one who can say “no” to Somalis’ enemies. On the loss of lives, there were Kenyan soldiers firing back at our fighters. There was an exchange of gunfire. There is no evidence it was our bullets that killed them.
We released all Muslims when we took control of the mall. Witnesses have backed us on this.
AJ: Do you think this attack will make Kenya withdraw its troops from Somalia?
SA: That question is not for us to answer. That is for the Kenyan government to answer. It is up to them to withdraw their soldiers or not. If they don’t withdraw, attacks like this will become common in Kenya. It is possible if they don’t withdraw attacks like this will happen in Kenyan cities and towns every day.
AJ: Before Kenyan troops went into Somalia in October 2011, what was al-Shabab’s relation with the Kenyan government?
SA: We always knew Kenya is the enemy of the Somali people. We knew this when we controlled the border towns. Kenya invading us was not unexpected. We don’t believe them and we dont trust them.
AJ: Kenya says it will go after the perpetrators of this attack and won’t stop until they are defeated. What do you say to that?
SA: We are not perpetrators. We are only defending ourselves and defending our rights, the rights of the Somali people. Today no one has a worse criminal record than the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. He’s talking about tens of people killed at Westgate while he’s responsible for the deaths of thousands of people killed when he was running for the presidency. If Kenyans want to hold someone accountable for crimes they should first start with him. AJ: Many, including the Somali and Kenyan governments, are saying al-Shabab targeting a place full of civilians is a sign of weakness, that al-Shabab is on the back foot and will soon be history. Is that the case?
SA: Whom are these people judging us? These people’s weakness is public for everyone to see. The Somali government is protected by tanks for them to stay in power. The Kenyans rely on foreign support, even to deal with a small matter like Westgate. They asked for Western support.
AJ: Finally, Kenya has designated the Mombasa Youth Centre (MYC) as a terrorist organisation. The group has on many occasions endorsed al-Shabab. What is al-Shabab’s relationship with MYC?
SA: The relations between MYC and us are the same relations between Muslims. They are our Muslim brothers. Islam is our common relation, and they have the same right from us like any other Muslim