The terrorist attack at a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, appeared to be coming to a close Tuesday as government forces took control after a four-day siege that left more than 60 people dead. But as the gunfire abates and the victims are identified, the attack continues to send waves of concern about the ability and willingness of terrorists to strike civilian targets.
In the mall attack, terrorists from the Somalia-based group al-Shabab held hostages for several days after storming the building with guns and bombs.
The violence reminds the world of the madness in the minds of terrorists and their willingness to strike anywhere. Kenya is a fairly prosperous, well-educated country, an exporter of tea and coffee (oil was discovered last year), and the Westgate mall in Nairobi catered to more affluent people.
The targets of terrorism, whether innocent bystanders in a Kenyan mall or bankers and business people and high-tech workers in two towers in New York, are not predictable. The object of seemingly random high-profile targets is to terrorize to maximum effect.
What utter, senseless cruelty was wrought. Mothers and fathers and children and grandparents, dead because of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And the victims reflected a cross-section of the world. They were from a multitude of countries on several continents. They were at all economic and social stations in life. They had done nothing to spur this kind of violence.
The strike at Westgate Mall was linked to tensions over Kenyas response to border raids from Somalia, but the images of a pleasant, commercial space transformed into a battlefield renew fear in other places. Early reports say some of the terrorists were from the United States. Are Americans more at risk? And the question that has lingered ever since Sept. 11, 2001: Are we doing all we can to protect ourselves?
The answer seems to be yes for Americans, who understand that random violence whether an attack in a Kenyan mall or the Sunday suicide bombings in a Christian church in Pakistan, where the death toll was greater than in Kenya is never entirely preventable.
The United States, following the terror attacks in 2001, stepped up intelligence gathering, tightened security at airports and in populated gathering places in big cities and remained mindful of the dangers, particularly at large venues for sports. Those steps likely have stopped some terrorists, though the bombing on the day of the Boston Marathon shows our vulnerability.
This terrible episode in Kenya and the church bombing in Pakistan remind us again that terrorism is a global threat that remains more than a decade after Sept. 11. They remind us as well that the world must not assume that Osama bin-Ladens death was a mortal wound for his cause and the various causes to which it gave birth. There remain people driven by religious fervor or hatred of other religions or resentment of free countries where governments do not follow the edicts of religious fundamentalists who mean to do harm, the ultimate harm, to those whom they perceive as their enemies.
People wish this threat would pass, but it will not. There can be only awareness, vigilance and hope. And, yes, the strength of all nations to work with one another to, if not end the threat of terrorism, at least weaken it.