Why Africa is the new locus of terror

Journalists argue with a security personnel when they were told to clear the area outside the Westgate Mall after heavy shooting started inside the mall Monday , Sept. 23, 2013. Kenya's military launched a major operation at the upscale Nairobi mall and said it had rescued "most" of the hostages being held captive by al-Qaida-linked militants during the standoff that killed at least 68 people and injured 175. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)

Terrorism in Africa is "slowly getting out of control" and the West needs to step in to flush out extremists sheltering in the continent, an expert has said.

As more details emerged about the gun and grenade attack in which more than 20 were people were killed in a Nairobi shopping centre, Dr Razaq Raj from Leeds Metropolitan University said African governments need immediate help.

The senior lecturer in tourism, who is an expert in Islamic terrorism, said Africa had become a key stronghold for al Qaida-style organisations, and the Somali-based group al-Shabaab was gaining a worrying foothold.

"Obviously the terror groups are moving away from Afghanistan and the other countries they were before," he said.

"Africa is an easy place for them to get shelter - they are going to be able to get some space.

"If they do emerge in Africa, it will be very hard to eliminate them. It is a large continent, so they can easily move from one country to another."

Dr Raj called on Britain and other western countries to help African governments with military equipment, intelligence, training and funding in their fight against the deadly extremist organisations.

"If we don't act now, there could be devastating results in the future," he said.

"I think it is already slowly getting out of control. The international community must think about how to challenge al-Shabaab."

The academic said the attack at the Westgate Mall in the affluent Westlands area of the Kenyan capital was deliberately targeted at expats and wealthy Kenyans to increase its exposure in the world's press.

He said: "They are looking to get more attention within the international community, so obviously they see Kenya as booming in tourism, so Nairobi was a good target area for them."

Asked about whether he thought the attack was likely to have been carried out by al-Shabaab, he said: "They have carried out attacks in these kinds of areas in Kenya, and other attacks in other parts of Africa as well.

"They are well organised. They have links with al Qaida, so al-Shabaab is the emerging terrorist organisation in Africa."

Dr Raj said the reported separation of Muslims and non-Muslims during the siege was unprecedented and worrying.

"This is the first time something like this has happened," he said.

"This is the most devastating thing about the whole incident for me. It is going to create more racism between Muslims and non-Muslims in Nairobi and around Kenya.

"We have never seen this before. Al Qaida never separated the Muslims from the non-Muslims. That's actually one of the most shocking parts of the day."