KENYA - Somali Islamist militant group Al-Shabab's attack in the heart of the Kenyan capital has thrust it to the forefront of the global jihadist movement.
The apparent sophistication of the weekend raid, involving 15 or so heavily armed fighters who held off Kenya's military for four days, suggests a trained strike force that goes beyond the group's hallmark hit-and-run tactics.
Regional intelligence experts said they believed the raiders, who killed 67 people in an assault that shocked Kenya and the world, were members of an elite unit loyal to the group's leader, Ahmed Godane, who has been seeking to rebrand Al-Shabab as a significant international jihadist group.
The mall attack bears out Western fears that the insurgents would use Somalia, a hot spot in the United States-led war on Islamist militants across the globe.
Al-Shabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said the gunmen who burst into the Israeli-built, upscale Westgate mall around midday on Saturday were "well-trained special forces". Their exact identities, though, remain unknown.
A Nairobi-based diplomat said it was possible Godane's own secret service - the Amniyat, an elite unit which has its own chain of command, logistics network and financial resources - carried out the raid.