Kenya Jews Stunned by Bloody Westgate Mall Terror Attack in Nairobi

Community Leader's Wife Trapped for 6 Hours

Destroyed: The remains of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi after Kenyan security retook the complex from Islamic militants.
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Destroyed: The remains of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi after Kenyan security retook the complex from Islamic militants.

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Published October 04, 2013.
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While it is still not known whether the mall was selected for its Israeli connection, Islamist militants have targeted Israelis in Kenya in the past. In 2002, al-Qaida affiliates blew up the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in the southern coastal city of Mombasa and fired two missiles at a chartered Boeing 757 belonging to Arkia, an Israeli airline.

Three Israelis and 10 Kenyans died in the hotel attack.

“The Mombasa attacks were clearly targeting Israelis, but according to what is known thus far, the Westgate action was not,” said Zvi Mazel, an expert on militant Islam in Africa and former head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Africa Department. “The Westgate attack was part of an internal African conflict, which the terrorists tried to globalize by selecting a Western symbol as their target.”

Still, Westgate’s Israeli link was no secret. In addition to media articles about Trachtenberg, one of the mall’s most popular businesses was a branch of Artcaffe, a brasserie jointly run by Israelis and Kenyans and styled after an Israeli chain with a similar name.

A favorite with Israelis for its shakshuka egg dish, Artcaffe was the subject of a protest earlier this year for perceived racism against black customers. Management rejected the allegations, but the “Occupy Artcaffe” campaign nonetheless exposed anti-Western and anti-Israel resentment that may have had a role in the attackers’ ability to find local collaborators, as Kenyan authorities believe they had done.

One of the dozens of articles published online about Artcaffe has a reader comment posted that threatens its owners. “Shoot to kill this idiot!” the comment reads.

The attack at Westgate is believed to have started at Artcaffe.

Rabbi Brachyahu Schonthal, 40, the community’s England-born rabbi who arrived with his wife in August, said he was trying to organize an interfaith commemoration service for the victims of the Westgate attack, but some members of the community fear it would attract too much attention.

“It’s a reaction that comes naturally to someone socialized in the spirit of American leadership,” Schonthal said, “but this community is used to keeping a low profile and I think the attack will only reinforce that.”


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