Public relations for terrorists: New tactic meant to spare some Muslims
Rutvik Patel, 14, was in the aisles at Nakumatt, the mall's supermarket which sells everything from plasma TVs to imported kiwis, when he heard the first explosion. "They started shooting continuously, and whoever died, died," he said. "Then it became calm and they came up to people and began asking them some questions. If you knew the answer, they let you go," he said. "They asked the name of the Prophet's mom. They asked them to sing a religious verse."
Just across from the Nakumatt supermarket, a 31-year-old Jewish businessman was cashing a check inside the local Barclays branch when he, too, heard the shooting. The people there ran to the back and shut themselves in the room with the safe, switching off the lights. They learned, via text messages, that the extremists were asking people to recite an Arabic prayer called the Shahada.
"One of the women who was with us got a text from her husband saying, they're asking people to say the Islamic oath, and if you don't know it, they kill you," said the businessman, who insisted on anonymity out of fear for his safety.
He threw away his passport. Then he downloaded the Arabic prayer and wrote it on his palm.
Al-Shabab's attempts to identify Muslims are clear in the 16-page transcript from the conference of Islamic scholars held in the Somali town of Baidoa, an area known to be under Shabab control in 2011, according to Somalia specialist Kenneth Menkhaus, a political science professor at Davidson College in North Carolina. The scholars issued several fatwas defining exactly who was a Muslim and who was an apostate.
The document states it is halal, or lawful, to kill and rob those who commit crimes against Islam: "The French and the English are to be treated equally: Their blood and their money are halal wherever they may be. No Muslim in any part of the world may cooperate with them in any way. ... It leads to apostasy and expulsion from Islam," it says. Further on it adds: "Accordingly, Ethiopians, Kenyans, Ugandans and Burundians are just like the English and the French because they have invaded the Islamic country of Somalia."
Former FBI supervisory special agent Ali Soufan, who investigated the bombing of the United States embassies in East Africa as well as the attack on the USS Cole, said that the gathering of dozens of religious scholars in an area under Shabab control harkens back to an al-Qaida conference in Afghanistan around 1997. That conference defined America as a target, Soufan said, leading to the bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
"You see something very similar here," said Soufan. "It's the same playbook."
In a second document dated Feb. 29, 2012 — just two weeks after al-Shabab joins al-Qaida — the organization warns Muslims to stay away from buildings occupied by non-Muslims, chillingly predicting and justifying the death of Muslims at Westgate.
"And so all Muslims must stay far away from the enemy and their installations so as not to become human shields for them, and so as not to be hurt by the blows of the mujahedeen directed at the Crusader enemies," it says. "There is no excuse for those who live or mingle with the enemies in their locations."
Yet at the same time it says: "The mujahideen are sincere in wanting to spare the blood of their brother Muslims, and they don't want a Muslim to die from the bullets directed at the enemies of God."
This is a concession for an organization that since its inception had killed people constantly, said Rudolph Atallah, who tracked Shabab as Africa counterterrorism director in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2003 to 2007.
"They would just go and mow people down," Atallah said. "They are now sending a clear message that, 'Look, we're different ... We're no longer indiscriminately killing. We're protecting innocent Muslims and we are trying to kill quote-unquote 'infidels,' nonbelievers."
A similar tactic paid off in January after al-Qaida-linked terrorist Moktar Belmoktar attacked a gas installation in Algeria, Atallah said. When his fighters freed hundreds of Muslim employees, a Facebook page dedicated to him exploded with "Likes."
Several hours after the gunshots at Westgate Mall, the people cowering inside the Barclays bank heard a commotion. As the attackers approached, the Jewish businessman spit on his hand to erase the words he had by then committed to memory.
The door opened.
He exhaled. It was the police.
Several floors above, 14-year-old Patel looked for a place to hide on the roof. When the jihadists came up the stairs and threw a grenade, he didn't hesitate. He jumped, crushing his ankle on the pavement below.
He said he would not have known how to answer their questions.
Associated Press writers Jason Straziuso in Nairobi and Andrew O. Selsky in Johannesburg contributed to this report. The documents are available in Arabic and English at http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/_international/_pdfs/al-qaida-papers-state-scholars.pdf
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