People flee 14 Riverside Drive in Nairobi on Jan. 15. (Photographer: Fredrik Lerneryd/Bloomberg)

Al-Qaeda Hotel Attack Kills 21, Shaking Kenya Economy Pillar

(Bloomberg) -- Kenyan forces ended an Islamist militant siege at a hotel and office complex in the capital that left at least 21 people dead and highlighted the threat still posed by al-Qaeda-linked fighters to East Africa’s largest economy.

Using hand grenades, automatic rifles and a suicide-bomber, the militants stormed 14 Riverside in Nairobi on Tuesday afternoon, a venue popular with business travelers and Kenya’s elites and home to offices of companies including Pernod Ricard SA and Dow Chemical East Africa Ltd. That precipitated an 18-hour siege around the DusitD2 hotel, which President Uhuru Kenyatta said ended about 9 a.m. Wednesday with the attackers dead.

Al-Qaeda Hotel Attack Kills 21, Shaking Kenya Economy Pillar

Somalia-based al-Shabaab took responsibility for the assault, the latest in a recent wave of jihadist strikes across Africa, including in Nigeria and Mali, which a loose coalition of African, Western and United Nation troops are struggling to stop. It’s al-Shabaab’s first significant assault in Kenya since it killed 147 people at a northeastern university in April 2015 and echoed a September 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall that left 67 dead and rocked the tourism industry.

“Al-Shabaab has selected a target that is highly symbolic of Kenya’s economic success and its latest attack is aimed at undermining foreign investment and the recovery of the country’s tourism sector,” said Robert Besseling, executive director of EXX Africa.

Travel Advisories

“The latest attack on foreigners, international companies, and hotel assets is likely to trigger a fresh review of travel advisories,” he said.

Kenya, a regional hub for companies such as General Electric Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., has previously felt the economic impact from attacks that curbed tourism -- one of its main generators of foreign exchange. The industry has recovered in recent years, with earnings climbing about a third year-on-year in 2018 to $1.54 billion.

Kenyan currency and equity markets were little changed.

In a televised address on Wednesday, Kenya’s president vowed authorities would “seek out every person that was involved in the planning, funding and execution of this heinous act.”

“Throughout the breadth of Kenya and in our immediate neighborhood, multiple security efforts are under way to detect, deter, disrupt and defeat any terrorist operatives or groups,” Kenyatta said. “In the coming days and weeks we shall continue the never-ending work to strengthen our systems.”

Five Attackers

Among those killed were 16 Kenyans, a U.K. national, an American and three others whose nationality is unknown, police Inspector General Joseph Boinnet said on Citizen TV. There were five attackers, and two suspects have been arrested, he said.

Al-Shabaab has been fighting in civil war-torn Somalia since about 2006 in a bid to impose its version of Islamic law. For a time the group controlled the capital, Mogadishu, until it was ousted by African Union forces in 2011 but it still regularly attacks Somali government facilities and civilians. Members also carried out bombings in Uganda in 2010 and Djibouti in 2014.

The group has vowed to keep up attacks as long as Kenya maintains soldiers in Somalia, where it’s part of the African Union mission. A survivor of the attack who gave his name as Reuben told local Citizen TV that he heard the gunmen accuse Kenya of killing “our people in Somalia” and “ruining our way of life.”

Tuesday marked the third anniversary of an al-Shabaab attack on an African Union base in Somalia in which the extremists said dozens of Kenyan soldiers were killed. Kenya’s government has never said how many people died.

A Kenyan court on Monday ordered three suspects to be tried for their involvement in the 2013 Westgate attack.

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