NAIROBI, Kenya — Viewing the deadly siege at a shopping mall in Kenya as a direct threat to its security, the United States is deploying dozens of FBI agents to investigate the wreckage, hoping to glean every piece of information possible to help prevent such a devastating attack from happening again, possibly even on U.S. soil.
For years, the FBI has been closely watching the Shabab, the Somali Islamist group that has claimed responsibility for the Nairobi massacre and recruited numerous Americans to fight and die — sometimes as suicide bombers — for its cause.
The Shabab has already attacked most of the major actors trying to end the chaos in Somalia — the United Nations, Uganda, aid groups, the Somali government and now Kenya. The United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars bankrolling anti-Shabab operations for years, and there is growing fear that the group could turn its sights on U.S. interests more directly.
"We are in this fight together," said Robert F. Godec, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya. "The more we know about the planning that went into this, the way it was conducted, what was used, the people involved, the better we can protect America too."
The U.S. government has learned the hard way what happens if it does not contain groups responsible for faraway attacks. In 1998, the then-relatively unknown group called al-Qaida simultaneously attacked the U.S. embassies here and in Tanzania, killing hundreds and following up a few years later with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Shabab militant group, which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaida and taken responsibility for killing more than 60 civilians at the mall, is considered an especially dangerous threat, because more than two dozen young U.S. men are already learning terrorist tactics in Somalia. So far, this has been a one-way pipeline, but the fear is that some battle-hardened militants could come home with their U.S. passports to strike on U.S. soil.
"You never know when a terrorist attack in a faraway place could be a harbinger of something that could strike at the United States," said Daniel Benjamin, a former Obama administration counterterrorism official. On Kenya, he said, "It's a country that has a long history of being attacked by terrorists that are of real concern to the United States."