A more cowardly act than gunning down weekend shoppers in a shopping mall cannot be imagined. But that is what Islamist militants from the Somali group al-Shabab did in Nairobi to protest the presence of Kenyan troops in their homeland. The dozens of people killed, among them children as young as two, were innocents caught up in a conflict not of their making. Solely through association, they paid with their lives. Such brutality can only be cause for the UN and African Union countries to redouble efforts to end the anarchy in the failed state of Somalia.
Al-Shabab chose its target for maximum impact. The Westgate Mall is Kenya's most prestigious and its shoppers include foreigners, the country's wealthy and the influential. Kenya's economically important tourism industry is likely to be hurt and relations with ethnic and religious groups, the sizeable Somali business community among them, could be damaged. Soft targets around the world have been put on alert for copycat attacks by extremists.
But there was more to the atrocity than fighting back against the gains made in southern Somalia by the 4,000 Kenyan soldiers attached to Amisom, the UN-backed, African-Union-led peacemaking mission comprising 18,000 troops. The significant losses suffered by al-Shabab have also led to an internal power struggle that has resulted in its fracturing. Those splits make the group, which is aligned to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, even more dangerous. Shutting down its operations and rounding up its members has to be a priority.
The Kenyan government and people have to show restraint and respect for the rule of law in dealing with the perpetrators of the attack. More than a million Somalis in Kenya and the diaspora also have a role in severing al-Shabab's financial sources and exposing operatives. But while bringing peace to Somalia ultimately lies with Somalis, the UN and African nations are also significant players. The murders are reason to boost efforts to eliminate extremism and ensure stability.