Ruhila Adatia-SoodAs we get updates on the horrifying terrorist attack at a mall in Kenya, one thing stands out to me: The victims sound a lot like us. Take Ross Langdon, a young British-Australian architect killed with his eight-months-pregnant girlfriend, Dr. Elif Yavuz, a Dutch professor. Elif was a malaria specialist and just days away from giving birth. Radio host Ruhila Adatia-Sood was Instagramming photos from the cooking demonstration she was hosting in the parking lot; moments later, she was dead. She was pregnant, too. It all went down at Westgate shopping mall, where people buy frozen yogurt and Gap jeans -- the same weekend people in the U.S. were doing the same at malls here that go by the same name. The mirror image between our lives and the lives of the terrorist victims in Nairobi is chilling.
Often when we hear about terrorist attacks in far-away countries, we think of people very different from ourselves, living lives we don't identify with at all. And, unfortunately, that makes us care about them a little less, makes it easier to put the horror of their experience out of our minds. We don't have that luxury this time.
An American family narrowly escaped the attack. Nick Handler, who works for a farming-related NGO in Kenya, was at the mall with his 2-year-old daughter, Julia, and his pregnant wife, Lyndsay. He hid in a storage closet with Julia; Lyndsay was shopping on another floor. Imagine being separated under those circumstances! They survived, but five Americans were killed.
For all we know, there may be Americans among the terrorists as well. The Somali-based, al Qaeda-linked terrorist group al-Shabaab claims it has recruited Americans. Some of those American recruits have vowed to take terrorist attacks to the U.S. FBI agent and terrorist expert Ali Soufan told ABC News,
This is something scary. I mean, if you think about individuals who went and fought in a place like Somalia and when they come back home, there's nothing good that can come of this ... What we see today in Kenya could be easily copied here in the United States.
On the other hand, other U.S. law enforcement officials say the U.S. is actually not a high-priority target for the group. Supposedly, al-Shabaab attacked Westgate mall in retaliation against Kenya's 2011 anti-terror operations in Somalia. So while the victims are very much like us, this attack was not about anti-Americanism.
Meanwhile, the standoff between Kenyan troops and al-Shabaab is nearing an end. Most of the hostages were freed over the weekend. Two of the terrorists were killed today and Kenyan government officials say they have gained control over the building. The toll currently stands at 62 people killed, 200 wounded, and 63 people reported missing. We hope to see an end to this standoff soon.
Do you worry about an attack like this happening in the U.S.?
Image via Ruhila Adatia-Sood/Instagram