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The Westgate Terror Attack in Kenya Essay


In the midmorning of 21 September 2013, the world was shocked with the news that terrorists were indiscriminately shooting customers who had flocked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Masked armed attackers stormed the mall shooting more than 80 people with almost two hundred suffering from bullet wounds. The attack was the most chilling in the region since the 1998 attack on the American embassies in the region. The gunmen took shoppers hostage in a siege that lasted for four days.

The Al Shabab, which is a militant division of the Al Qaeda eventually, claimed the responsibility. Images captured on Closed-Circuit television (CCTV) showed a mall full of blood and corpses as the attackers spread victims with bullets. There was confusion as everyone ran for cover. The international media was present after the news broke out. However, the reporters gave diverse information regarding the same event. This study will explore reports as given by different media houses. This will help in examining how news media influences the audience and consequently history.

Main Body

An article written by Jeffrey Gettleman and Nicholas Kulish for The New York Times depicts the Westgate Mall attack as one that was littered with bloodshed. Either it captures graphic images that other media houses did not capture or the editor decided that the images were very disturbing for printing. In creating a room for the reader to understand the intensity of the attack, the authors state that the attack was the most frightening since the bombing of the American embassies in East Africa in 1998. In fact, the 1998 attack on the American landmarks claimed more than two hundred and fifty lives with hundreds sustaining injuries. The article was published as the siege continued thus creating global anxiety as to the outcome of the standoff between the attackers and security agencies.

Gettleman and Kulish further describe the events that were taking place at the mall. They indicate that scared parents tossed themselves over their children to protect them from the raging gunfire. In order to indicate the gravity of the fear of the victims, the authors’ state that they would desperately huddle at the rear of plastic dummies as the terror squad swiftly moved through the mall.

Those seen by the terrorists would be shot in the head according to the writers. They create a scene where the floors were smudged with blood as security agents and civilians licensed to carry guns rushed through hallways encumbered with corpses. In the report, the writer articulately avoids bias. However, the reader could tell that the writers are somehow grasping the feelings of the moment as well as the chronological background.

Goran Tomasevic reports for Reuters as a photographer. When the siege occurred, he rushed to the mall to take photos (p.5). His reporting is primarily meant to show the world what transpired at the mall by capturing graphics that leave the audience astonished by the cruelty of such terrorists. The images are nauseating. He went with the security officers inside the mall given that he was interested in capturing unmatched photo of the scene. The article is full of gruesome images of victims. In order to heighten his capturing of the audience, he describes how a police agent was shot in the stomach and the officer was scared himself. He describes a scenario where injured mothers struggled to run away with their children. Tomasevic even took photos of many corpses that were scattered at the entrance of the mall.

The attackers had started spraying bullets indiscriminately at the entrance of the mall that had only one main entrance. He describes a scenario when he was with the security agents hiding behind a stand that would not protect them from the sprays of bullets flying all over the mall. He claims to have alerted the security agents and all of them dived down for cover. The events that took place left everyone including the security agents in total shock particularly the blood and bodies lying all over the place (Tomasevic 5). His narration is more of a warning for anyone who may attempt to go into such a scene. For Tomasevic, it is always a disturbing and horrifying experience.

The article by Gabriel Gatehouse seems to explore the measures taken by authorities in response to the attack. He raises concern regarding a report released by the security agents that the face-off with the terrorists was over inside the mall. Apparently, those close to the scene could still hear intense gunfire from the mall hours after the press release. The reporter claims that there was no official affirmation that indeed the security agents had contained the situation.

Despite the government stating that only 39 people had been killed, the reporter raises doubts as to the whereabouts of the survivors claiming that morgues expected to receive more corpses. He grounds his assertion on the Red Cross statement that more than fifty people were still missing. The government had initially stated that the terrorism act was not as a result of the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) leading an onslaught on Al Qaeda strongholds in the neighboring Somalia (Humberstone 19). He quotes a tweet by the militant group that the act was as a follow-up to the KDF to withdraw from the country.

Gatehouse further questions the information that was emerging while the confrontation continued. While the KDF spokesman claimed that the siege had been contained with only a few hours remaining to kill or capture the remaining attackers, the police stated that they were neutralizing any explosives planted by the terrorists. The Aljazeera was also able to point out the inconsistency. The Foreign Secretary within hours of the attack categorically stated that one of the attackers was a woman. This raised media speculation regarding the probable participation of Samantha Lewthwaite. The woman also known as ‘The white widow’ was the widow of the suicide attacker on the London’s rail network in 2005. On the contrary, the Internal Secretary had asserted that all the terrorists were men.

In fact, he stated that some might have donned women attire. In this regard, the author does not seem to be very interested in what transpired at Westgate. He is more concerned with how national security issues are handled in the face of increasing terrorism threats. The writer appears to be driven by national interests of his country. By integrating the facts, he creates an image for his government that it should be more decisive when dealing with Kenya in terms of tourists and diplomats on security matters.

The writer quotes the Al Shabab’s counter claim that it was still in contact with the attackers. The dreaded network asserted that the attackers still had hostages within the mall. This was in response to the government’s claim that there were no signs that any more hostages were still in the building. The claim raised fundamental security issues not of Kenyans only, but also other foreigners who were either killed or held captives in the building. The article seems more targeted at governments whose citizens might have been at the mall to respond to the urgency of the issue. He seems to have suggested that Kenyan government was been caught off-guard and could not respond to the attack effectively. It is clear that the author sought to display the East African country as one that could not guarantee security hence other governments should issue travel advisories to their citizens.

In order to reinforce his claim, Gatehouse states that the Al Qaeda network had frequently warned Kenyan troops to pull out of Somali. The outcome of the threats was beginning to materialize within Kenyan soil. He further augmented his argument by stating that the United Nations envoy for Somali Nicholas Kay had requested a new flow of troops to the unstable country to battle around five thousand regrouped Al Shabab militants. Gatehouse emphasizes the issue of security in Kenya and the region while ignoring the fact that terrorism was a global issue. He seems biased in reporting the Kenyan scenario. He develops an image of a country that could guarantee security neither to its citizens nor to non-Kenyans.

Mike Pflanz reporting for the telegraph significantly diffuses Tomasevic’s claims. He reports about the tragedy but takes a different position that makes the reader not to view the Westgate attack as an isolated case. He opens the article by indicating that an expectant Briton escaped unharmed from the ugly scene though she was shaken by the incident. He then states that there were no British citizens trapped in the building as captives. He assures his readers that the British Prime Minister had spoken with President Uhuru Kenyatta regarding the attack and assured the President of assistance to curb the international menace.

Pflanz hints to his readers that the British Foreign Secretary was in constant contact with Kenya. He sought to reassure the audience that even world leaders were awake to the fact that terrorism may occur anywhere. He develops the picture of the victims caught up in the skirmishes. Although the title of the article catches the attention of the reader as capturing the situation of the British citizens, in consequent paragraphs he talks of shoppers, tourists and children. The victims included diplomats from diverse countries who usually shop and have leisure at the mall.

In what could be viewed as playing along with the information released by authorities, Pflanz wrote that thirty people were killed although death toll was expected to rise. He appears not to criticize the Kenyan security agencies as the source of failure but rather points that terrorists may attack anywhere. The author does not give explicit information regarding the event. He is conservative with descriptive information. In essence, he writes of the gunmen as those who could not converse in the countries two national language namely Kiswahili and English. Instead, the attackers spoke in Somali and Arabic according to the witnesses he interviewed.

The witnesses may have given full account of the evident massacre and bloodshed but Pflanz only states that the terrorists executed ‘some’ of the shoppers. This is probably aimed at upholding media codes of conduct that require journalist to withhold information that may eventually be detrimental to the profession. Creating an ugly picture would significantly impact on friends and relatives of the victims. This would rob the victims their dignity. In this regard, Pflanz creates the impression that although the attack was extreme everything within the means of authorities both local and international was being done to ensure that loss of life was minimized. He does not seek to create unnecessary panic among the affected.

All the media houses reported that the gunmen were targeting non-Muslims. The attackers would be heard asking the victims if they were Muslim. Those who denied the religion were shot instantly at close range. Those who claimed to subscribe to Islam were let to go unhurt. Irrespective of the truth of the situation, the image created by the media depicts a religious war against non-Muslims. According to Gettleman and Kulish, once they had cornered the victims the attackers instructed Muslims to leave the mall. They picked non-Muslims and shot them one after the other (Gettleman and Kulish 1). The same sentiments were expressed via Associated Press through CBC News channel. However, Gabriel Gatehouse reporting for BBC reported that a Somali living in Kenya said that this was not a religious war as it was a humanity issue given that the attackers killed innocent shoppers.

The issue of whether or not the attack was related to religion remains a heated debate among many globally. The Westgate event is likely to shape the perception of most people globally in years to come. The reporting by various media houses portrayed the attackers as extremist Muslims who out to massacre non-Muslims (Steyn 48). The perception is likely to take a radical stance that Islam advocates for the killing of ‘unbelievers’. In Minnesota, Islam leaders condemned the attack indicating that it had nothing to do with religion. The claim raised speculation on the motive of terrorists given that most of them are Muslims and the attacks are evidently based on idealism.


The analysis of the articles leaves no doubt that news media may report the same event but create different impressions to the audience. It is evident that the news media is powerful in presenting the audience with what they regard important not to the audience but how the news is received. Reporters have the power to influence how the reader perceives the news. The same event is reported with facts stated but the way it is done creates differing perceptions. In the Westgate attack, readers of different articles are presented with the basic fact that an attack occurred. However, as the story develops the authors present the story in a way that seeks to influence the perception of the audience.

Generally, all articles create the impression that such blood terrorism attacks are conducted through Islamists. Gettleman and Kulish article creates anxiety in the reader by implying that the scene was smeared with blood and helpless shoppers were at the mercy of the attackers (p.1). The authors of the article then developed the scenario as one that necessitated international intervention to mitigate the loss of lives. Tomasevic with graphic reporting developed the situation as desperate while at the same time advancing his wartime photographic career by presenting the audience with what actually transpired (p.1).

Gatehouse also begins with the tragic scenario. However, his narration develops into that which seeks the attention of the concerned countries to rethink on allowing their citizens into the terrorism-prone east African region (p.2). On the contrary, Pflanz reports on the bloodshed but develops his story into one that reflects on terrorism as a global concern (p.7). Each author presents the reader with an aspect deemed important by integrating either terrorism or national concerns.

Works Cited

Gatehouse, Gabriel. “Nairobi Attack: Kenya Forces Comb Westgate Site.” British Broadcasting Corporation, 2013: 2. Print.

Gettleman, Jeffrey and Nicholas Kulish. “Gunmen Kill Dozens in Terror Attack at Kenyan Mall.” The New York Times, 2013: 4. Print.

Humberstone, Tom. What Next for Al-Shabab. New Statesman, 2013: 19-20. Print.

Pflanz, Mike. “Nairobi Shopping Mall Attacks: Britons Among those caught up in Terrorist Assault.” The Telegraph, 7. Print.

Steyn, Mark. Happy Warrior: Whose Islam? National Review, 10.2(2013): 48-49. Print.

Tomasevic, Goran. “Witnessing the Nairobi Mall Massacre.” Reuters, 2013: 5. Print.

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