“Personally, I have nothing against Somalis, but they should all be thrown out,” said Aquilah Kauser Ishaq, 32, a marketing manager at a radio station who was hospitalized with grenade and bullet wounds.
Fears of retribution
In Eastleigh, a predominantly Somali enclave of Nairobi, residents are bracing for retribution. Many shops now close before nightfall. Business has slowed down, as people remain indoors or are too afraid to come to the area. Residents have postponed traveling abroad for fear of being detained at the airport.
It didn’t help that a Kenyan politician declared last week, despite a lack of evidence, that some of the militants who attacked the mall came from Eastleigh.
“Somalis are soft targets whenever there is an explosion or any attack,” said Hassan Adan, a Somali elder and businessman.
Eastleigh, according to U.N. and Kenyan officials as well as regional analysts, is a haven for al-Shabab operatives and an important source of recruitment and funding for the militia. That has made it particularly vulnerable to Kenyan security units, which have long extorted bribes from residents by threatening to throw them in jail or deport them, Somali elders and human rights activists say.
“The police see the Somalis as an ATM machine,” said Ahmed Mohammed, the secretary general of the Eastleigh Business District Association. “Somalis are arrested here every night.”
In November, a device detonated on a crowded minibus in Eastleigh, killing at least 10 people. That sparked riots by youth gangs from neighboring areas, whose members assaulted Somalis and looted Somali-owned stores. Kenyan police assaulted and arbitrarily detained at least 1,000 people, mostly Somali refugees, according to Human Rights Watch.
“If the authorities made a crackdown, arrested people and tortured them, that will not help their cause,” Mohammed said, adding that such actions might drive some Somalis “to join al-Shabab.”
Outside Eastleigh, many Somalis say they now receive suspicious looks from Kenyans. Mohammed Khayrad, 25, who runs a Somali youth group, said the owner of a downtown restaurant called him a terrorist and ordered him to leave.
Before he left, Khayrad recalled, he confronted the owner: “I told him, ‘I hurt the way you hurt. I hate the way you hate. I am not one of the terrorists. I am part of the community who loves Kenya.’ ”