The Militant Group Behind the Kenya Mall Attack Is Live-Tweeting the Massacre

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 21 2013 5:08 PM

The Militant Group Behind the Kenya Mall Attack Is Live-Tweeting the Massacre

The official Twitter account of the press office for Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, better known simply as al-Shabaab.
The official Twitter account of the press office for Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, better known simply as al-Shabaab.

Screenshot / Twitter

Al-Shabab, a Qaida-linked Somali insurgent group known for brutal, terroristic tactics, has claimed responsibility for the grisly massacre at a mall in Nairobi today. That in itself is unsurprising: The perpetrators of political violence have long sought media attention for their cause. What is new is the degree to which al-Shabab in particular makes use of social media to broadcast its side of the story directly to the public.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

As I wrote in a 2011 feature story about the group’s Twitter presence, al-Shabab has long made canny use of the platform both to rile its enemies and to counter mainstream-media portrayals of its actions and aims. For months it carried on a Twitter feud with Kenya’s military spokesman, Emmanuel Chirchir, as Shabab fighters clashed with Kenyan forces bent on incapacitating it. (Kenya has led offensives into Somalia in recent years, apparently with the tacit approval of the Somali government, which has struggled to put down the insurgency.)


Al-Shabab’s former Twitter accounts, including @HSMPress and @HSMPress1, have been suspended in the past, likely under a clause in the Twitter Terms of Service that prohibits direct threats of violence. Each time, however, the group simply creates a new account. On Sept. 10 I got an email from the group’s press office informing me that I could now follow the new handle @HSMPress, “for the Mujahideen's take on the events in Somalia as well as current events in the wider global context.”

Today, as the bloodshed has unfolded in Nairobi, @HSMPress has been tweeting along in an apparent bid to explain and justify the killers’ actions. The tweets may give some insight into the group’s thinking, but take them with salt: The group’s allegiance to facts is tenuous, and there is a strong chance that its attempts to justify the slaughter of unarmed civilians will make you seethe.

HSM Press al Shabab tweets
The Shabaab press office has claimed via Twitter to be in contact with the shooters in the Nairobi mall massacre.

Screenshot / Twitter

Update, Sept. 21, 5:34 p.m.: Unsurprisingly, Twitter appears to have suspended the account. I've emailed Twitter for comment and will update if they reply. In the past, Twitter has declined to comment on individual accounts, instead referring media to its Terms of Service, which include the following:

  • Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.

Related on Slate:

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.