Kenya in Context: Malls Around the World That Terrorists Have Attacked

Lots of people, lots of exits, lots of packages—a few of the reasons why shopping malls are targeted

“Terrorist attacks at shopping centers, 1998 – 2005”
“Terrorist attacks at shopping centers, 1998 – 2005” RAND Corporation, Reducing Terrorism Risk at Shopping Centers

Over the weekend a group of militants, part of Somalia’s Al-Shabaab, raided a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 62 people, and today, Kenyan military forces are moving in on the mall, where the militants are still holed up. So far, the Kenyan military has taken back most of the mall, says Reuters.

In a 2006 report, the RAND Corporation noted that terrorists “have repeatedly targeted shopping centers in particular.” In the report, RAND compiled a list of terrorist attacks on shopping centers, starting in 1998. You can see them all on this map:

While Americans might tend to think of malls as a particular American shopping experience, the Westgate Mall, where this weekend’s attacks occurred, is ”a premier complex frequented by wealthy locals and expatriates,”  the Daily Nation, a Kenyan paper says. “Waterfalls, gardens, golden railings, ornate lamps, marble stairway, escalators and panorama glass highlight the interior of the mall that houses international brands such as Nike, Adidas, Converse, Identity, Ivory, Kache by Angie and Woolworths, Mocca, Little Soles, Sir Henry’s and Mr Price.” RAND’s map indicates that the places that have seen the most frequent attacks at shopping centers are places where conflicts are already ongoing—places like Turkey during Kurdish rebellions, Colombia, Lebanon, and Israel.

As “soft targets,” shopping malls are relatively easy to attack, according to research by the U.S.’s National Institute of Justice:

It is the very nature of retail malls that makes them vulnerable: Large numbers of people, many carrying sizeable parcels, come and go through multiple entrances and exits, making it easy for a shooter to blend in with the crowds. Overseas, open-air street markets—the world’s original malls—have similar risk factors. And natural disasters, such as fires, tornados, and earthquakes, pose many of the same security issues for malls. But regardless of the event—natural disaster or attack via automatic weapon, bomb, or chemical or biological agent—casualties in malls can be high.

The RAND study only tracked attacks up until 2005, but there have been similar, though not as sizable attacks, in the United States. Americans aren’t particularly keen on the idea of stepping up visible security, like metal detectors, at malls, but they have been the focus of counterterrorism work, as NPR reported in 2011.

More from

Fighting Terrorism in the Future
The U.S. Is Stocking Drugs for a Hypothetical Smallpox Bio-Attack

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.