On Saturday, September 21, 2013, members of Al Shabaab, a Somali based Islamic terrorist organization affiliated with the international Al Qaeda network, executed a complex terrorist attack on an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The attackers simultaneously entered the mall from two different entrances, shooting shoppers with assault rifles and throwing hand grenades. The terrorists remained in the mall, engaging government security forces for the next four days, resulting in a major fire and partial collapse of the mall. The Kenyan government has officially reported 72 deaths and more than 200 injured as a result of the attack. A significant number of those killed and injured were foreign citizens, including 6 U.S. citizens who were injured in the attack.
Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida ally, relies on a broad range of funding sources to support its terrorist and paramilitary operations in Somalia. However, little comprehensive information is available on the character and extent of this funding network within the large communities of Somali expats in Kenya. Existing reports suggest that alternative remittance systems (ARS), especially hawaladars, are a reliable source of income for Somalis still living in Somalia. Expat family members living in Kenya rely on these systems to transfer money to their relatives in Somalia. Recent reports suggest al-Shabaab is a beneficiary of these services1. Al-Shabaab could exploit current and future hawaladar networks in Kenya to transit funds to support IED operations against US or allied humanitarian or military operations. Thus, networks of undocumented and unmonitored hawaladars within the country could pose a threat to future counterterrorism or humanitarian operations in the region. Further study of the role of ARS in Kenya in the funding of al-Shabaab operations is recommended.