Al-Shabab has said the attack, which began Saturday, was revenge for Kenya sending troops into Somalia. But the carnage had just as much to do with the struggles inside the militia and Godane’s desire to make al-Shabab — and himself – stronger and more relevant in the global jihad against the United States and its allies, according to analysts.
Late Wednesday, in an audio posted on a Web site linked to al-Shabab, Godane warned Kenyans of more attacks if the government refuses to withdraw its forces.
“There is no way that you, the Kenyan public, could possibly endure a prolonged war in Somalia and you cannot also withstand a war of attrition inside your own country,” he said, according to an al-Shabab Twitter feed in English. “So make your choice today and withdraw all your forces . . . [or] be prepared for an abundance of blood that will be spilt in your country, economic downfall and displacement.”
The four-day siege of the Westgate Premier Shopping Mall was Godane’s first major cross-border assault since he eliminated key al-Shabab leaders in the summer and solidified his grip over the militia. His ambitions appear to be as complex as his personality.
“Godane is clearly positioning himself as the next Anwar al-Awlaki — on top of his game as the head of a local al-Qaeda affiliate, and with international ambitions,” said Abdi Aynte, director of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, a Mogadishu-based think tank. He was referring to the Yemeni American preacher who was a key figure in al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch and was killed in a 2011 U.S. drone strike.
Since 2011, al-Shabab has lost much territory in Somalia, pushed out of key cities by Western-backed African Union forces and weakened by infighting and loss of funding. An ideological and directional split among the militia’s leaders has pit nationalists, who want the group to remain focused on ousting Somalia’s government, against transnationalists such as Godane, who have pushed the militia to pursue a wider jihadist agenda, regionally and beyond.
After a brutal struggle, Godane emerged victorious. He transformed the militia into a more streamlined, unified and radicalized terrorist force, said J. Peter Pham, head of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council. In some ways, the mall attack was an announcement to radical Muslims and the West that a new al-Shabab had arrived — with Godane in control.
“The attack was Godane’s way of solidifying his recent quelling of internal dissent and firmly placing the organization as a global jihadist entity,” Aynte said.