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Talking Points for Law Enforcement about the Terrorist Attack in Nairobi, Kenya

Talking Points for Law Enforcement about the Terrorist Attack in Nairobi, Kenya

Last month’s attack (September 21 – 24, 2013) on the Westgate mall in Kenya left the world in shock and reminded law enforcement about terrorism and the threat it still poses to communities. According to the Kenyan Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku, the death toll from the terror attack remained at 67, comprising 57 Kenyans, two French, one Chinese, one Ghanaian, one Canadian, one Korean, one Australian, one South African, one Peru national and one from Netherlands. The number of injured people is well over 100. Another 39 people remain unaccounted for as the investigation continues. Explosives were employed by the terrorists, collapsing floors of the mall. Once the debris is removed, more deaths may be recorded.

In the aftermath of the horrific massacre, news reports state that investigators, including a large F.B.I. contingent, have poured into Nairobi, Kenya to gather information that may help prevent further attacks by the Islamist group Al Shabab.

INTERPOL deployed its Incident Response Team (IRT) at the request of Kenyan authorities to provide on-site assistance. The team includes Disaster Victim Identification and data specialists to carry out real-time comparisons against INTERPOL’s global databases on DNA and fingerprints and other evidence gathered from the crime scene. The IRT, will ensure the swift dissemination of all forensic information, photographs of the suspect terrorists, details of arrested individuals and any other suspect linked to the deadly assault to INTERPOL’s 190 member country network for comparison against national databases to identify any potential leads.

Al Shabab is the militant group taking responsibility for the violence (for more about Al Shabab see footnote 1). News reports indicate that Al Shabab has clearly extended beyond Somalia and become much more organized. The group is also believed to be recruiting from all parts of the world including the United States and the United Kingdom. Its financial dealings are increasingly sophisticated.

While there is much speculation on how the attack was carried out, it is clear that it was a calculated process that required much sophisticated planning.

The killings were chilling but also an important lesson for law enforcement. Non-muslins were singled out, tortured and executed. This move has been regarded by experts as a public campaign strategy intended to win over sympathy of moderate Muslims. It is a desperate and short sighted strategy because several Muslims were also killed in the attack. Similar groups have attempted this strategy but aren’t winning over the masses as they had expected. For example, the recent attack by Nigerian Islamists group Boko Haram on college Students in Yobe left several innocent Muslims killed. (2) Law enforcement is now challenged with an ideology that’s seeks to divide society along religious lines.


All footnotes and references to other resources were accessed on October 3, 2013.

Additional Resource

Talking Points

The attack on the Westgate Shopping mall in Kenya revived the question of terrorism and raised questions as to what the international community is doing to combat it. The Islamist group Al Shabab, attacked the mall on a Saturday afternoon, September 21, 2013, killing more than 60 people and injuring hundreds. The attack was then followed by a siege that lasted four days (ending Tuesday, September 24, 2013) as authorities worked to rescue hostages and arrest the killers.


Although the official death toll remains vague because of the need to dig through the debris from the explosives set off by the terrorists. As of now, the Kenyan government released a statement that confirms 67 dead. According to Interior Cabinet Secretary, of the deceased, 57 are Kenyans, two French, one Chinese, one Ghanaian, one Canadian, one Korean, one Australian, one South African, one Peru national and one from Netherlands

Different Techniques

Much speculation remains on how the attack was carried out and the techniques used by militants to pick their victims. Non-muslins were singled out, tortured and executed. The killers asked their victims to do things like reciting verses from the Koran, saying the Islamic oath and also looked at their dress code.

Extent of the Brutality

Military doctors working on the scene have said that militants tortured their victims before killing them. Reports of severed hands, cut off noses and, in some cases, hanged hostages have surfaced. Several media outlets have reported seeing victims’ bodies that were amputated.

Potential for Violence to Spread to US

Questions are now being raised about the impact of this level of violence on the US and the international community at large. There is speculation that some of the militants may have been Americans and British citizens. Parts of the US with a large Somali population will require vigilance by citizens and the local police to avoid any infiltration by members of Al Shabab.

Urban Terrains for Attacks

The battle lines of asymmetric warfare in urban terrains often involve multiple and highly mobile active shooters engaging multiple targets with high power combat weapons, explosives and fires to confuse responders, to attract media and to cause maximum causalities.

The terrorist are often wearing combat uniforms and employing tactics similar to the military Special Forces units. Common element of the mind-set of these perpetrators are:

  • will not stop, willing to fight until they are dead
  • Well-armed and trained
  • may be on drugs for courage, believe that they will be rewarded
  • seek press coverage
  • look for the stronger hostages first and kill them to eliminate the threat
  • show no respect for children and women, will torture any and all hostages
  • will show no mercy, the more horrifying the killings the better
  • may rig themselves with explosives

Do Not Follow the Rule Book

These terrorist attacks in urban environments do not follow a rule-book; rather the attacks are designed to be fluid, opportunistic, overlapping, and create unanticipated situations. The only end sought is many deaths, damage, and news coverage.

Local Preparation

Using the descriptions of the events as they unfolded, local communities can consider each event from the perspective of an identical attack occurring at a local school, theater, shopping mall, or housing development. Agencies can make the scenario planning more realistic by imagining that the attacks happened at the same time and same day of the week.

  • Evaluate what resources would be available, what would their response look like, and how would all emergency responders work together?
  • planning for the known scenarios helps prepare all emergency responders for the next unknown situation.
  • Once local scenarios have been developed, conduct a table top exercise to assess the realties and practicalities of the training exercise. After the critical elements are in place, accomplish a dry run of the exercise for refinements.
  • Conduct the training exercise.
  • Hold joint debriefing sessions to further develop the response of all first emergency responders.

The cornerstones of a unified approach is:

  • Raising awareness on differences in response protocols within the first responder community
  • Integrating planning and training efforts as well as practical exercises across disciplines
  • Using NIMS/ICS as the platform for all state, local incident response efforts
  • Increasing communication interoperability to ensure an integrated response
  • Understanding the value of aggressively responding to active shooter incidents
  • Making sure all first responders have the best equipment available

For more information see:



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXX, no. 10, October 2013. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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