The Ramifications of the Al-Shabaab Attack on the DusitD2 Hotel in Nairobi

The Ramifications of the Al-Shabaab Attack on the DusitD2 Hotel in Nairobi

REPORT • Jan 2019

At least 21 people were killed when militants stormed the DusitD2 hotel on 16 January in the high-security Riverside complex. The siege took place less than a mile away from the Westgate Mall; the scene of a similar terror attack in 2013.

Key Points

  • At least 21 people were killed when militants stormed the DusitD2 hotel on 16 January in the high-security Riverside complex. The siege took place less than a mile away from the Westgate Mall; the scene of a similar terror attack in 2013.
  • The hotel was considered one of the most secure accommodations in the city due to the stringent security infrastructure and a substantial number of international companies used the site to conduct business activities.
  • The ease in which the heavily armed attackers entered the hotel, and the city, will be a concern for Kenyan officials and travellers in the city. Travel Risk Managers should now revisit and update their accommodation policies.
The Ramifications of the Al-Shabaab Attack on the DusitD2 Hotel in Nairobi


Following our previous update on the recent Nairobi attack. At least 21 people are now known to have died when militants loyal to Islamist group al-Shabaab stormed the luxury DusitD2 hotel compound in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The attack, which was led by between four and six attackers, one being a suicide bomber the rest gunmen, resulted in a 19-hour siege which ended once the five remaining militants had been “eliminated”. The attack is the worst in the country since the 2015 Garissa attack which killed almost 150 people. While terror attacks are not occurring at the same rate that they did between 2011 and early 2015, the threat of terror attacks remains elevated in the country.

The attack is also significant in that the target, the DusitD2 hotel complex, which was considered one of the most secure hotels in Nairobi. The hotel was filled with Western and African travellers as well as local Kenyans; with at least one British and one US citizen being killed. The hotel is situated on 14 Riverside Drive and shares neighbourhoods with three Western embassies; the Australian, Dutch and German. The complex also houses a number of offices belonging to international companies; such as Colgate Palmolive, Pernod Ricard and SAP SE. This makes the hotel, and the area, a popular location for business people, Western diplomats and affluent Kenyans to stay, stop for a drink or conduct business meetings.

The hotel was a base for Western corporations and attracted a globalised clientele making it a symbolic target for al-Shabaab, who were able to access the building despite the presence of armed guards. The proximity of the DusitD2 to the three Western embassies only added to the global attention that a terror attack would draw. Since the Westgate mall attack in 2013 international media attention has skirted over al-Shabaab attacks in Kenya.  Over the last four years, al-Shabaab have focused their attacks in the northern counties of Kenya, which they consider part of Greater Somalia and include Lamu, Mandera and Garissa. The international traveller footprint is significantly lower in these areas resulting in minimal media attention. Even the Garissa Massacre in 2015, the worst terror attack in Kenya since the US Embassy bombing in 1998, received far less coverage than the DusitD2 attack or Westgate.

Despite the negatives, the Kenyan security forces were reportedly able to evacuate some 700 people. It is unclear if this was due to the hotel’s unique characteristics; the single-track entrance should have worked in the favour of the attackers. It is being reported that the number of victims could have been a lot higher; especially given the ease that the attackers walked into the supposedly secure compound.

It has also been reported that Western intelligence officials warned Kenyan officials that al-Shabaab was planning a high-profile terror attack on a significant target in the Christmas/new year period. Though a Kenyan official has stated that there was a lack of detail in the warning, the country had been on high alert and given the high-profile nature of the hotel, it remains surprising that security was not upscaled. The attackers may have changed target locations; possibly at the last minute due to increased security in other areas. As such, allowing them to confuse security officials that were trying to track the militants. This theory has some traction as, despite the heavy armament of the attackers, and the casualties inflicted, the rapid response by Kenya security forces kept the casualty numbers below those of the Westgate Mall attack or the Garissa University Massacre.

Following the attack on the Westgate Mall in 2013, Kenya implemented enhanced security measures. As such, in Nairobi, and in other major metropolitan areas in eastern Africa, shopping centres, supermarkets and hotels are all typically protected by gates and staffed by security guards. It is routine for vehicles that visit high-end complexes, like the one that the DusitD2 hotel was situated in, are checked for explosives before being allowed to enter. In Nairobi, those travelling to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport must exit their vehicles some distance from the entrance and pass through metal detectors on the side of the road while their vehicles are checked separately.

Kenya has tried to balance convenience with safety. However, should the threat continue, as demonstrated by the most recent attack, this balance will likely need to change. Which will require the hardening of targets and making responses more effective. While it will not be possible to completely prevent such attacks. It should be possible to make them less deadly and less frequent. Indeed, the work done so far has proven that by investing in intelligence and security measures these attacks can become rarer and less deadly.

Future attacks remain likely, the al Qaeda-linked group has been able to exploit a largely unguarded border that stretches for hundreds of miles separating the most remote reaches of Kenya from lawless areas of Somalia. According to a UN investigation, bribery is rife at the border, with guards accepting money in exchange for not checking suspected militant vehicles. These bribes can often be as little as US$20. Kenyan officials have denied the UN report and denied allegations of corruption. Once in the country, the militants can use the estimated 1.5 million Somalis inside Kenya, many of them refugees, to help them move around the country without detection.

Security Advice

Moderate Terrorism Risk

  • Travel to Nairobi can continue as planned. Remain vigilant for suspicious behaviour and bags.
  • Continue to anticipate a heightened police and military presence throughout the city; especially around other major international hotels, shopping malls, government buildings and other areas of interest. Additionally, exercise vigilance and follow all official directives.
  • The DusitD2 Hotel and the wider 14 Riverside Drive complex remains closed; travellers intending to stay or visit the hotel should make alternative arrangements. Additionally, expect road closures, or disruption, to be present in the area and plan accordingly.
  • Carry personal identification documents at all times in case you need to transit through a checkpoint.
  • Consult local media, in-country contacts and Solace Global Alerts for continued updates on the situation.
  • Security managers should update their escalation and evacuation plans for Kenya, focusing on what protocols staff members should follow in light of the recent attack and in view of a possible copycat or should a follow-up attack occur.
  • Standing travel advice to Nairobi continues, there is a high risk of crime and vigilance should be employed throughout the city.

Recent Alerts

1108 18 Feb 2020

With a week to go, don’t forget to register to the #BusinessTravelShow. If you want to book to discuss how we can a…

1202 17 Feb 2020

The biggest #desertlocust outbreak in almost 3 decades has been affecting large parts of East Africa. The rapidly e…

1452 14 Feb 2020

Read our latest report on the #COVIDー19 outbreak. If you'd like to receive daily updates…

1038 14 Feb 2020

RT @TravelRiskMedia: We were delighted to announce shortlisted nominees for the Travel Risk Awards earlier this week. Not had chance to hav…

1704 12 Feb 2020

On the 8th February Thailand saw its worst mass shooting in the countries history. In total, 30 people were killed,…

1242 10 Feb 2020

RT @CEGAGroup: A great way to start the week! #Intrinsic Assistance – the medical and security #risk management & #assistance solution from…

1202 07 Feb 2020

Solace Global's daily update on the #Wuhan #Coronavirus for the 7th January. If you would…

1621 06 Feb 2020

Our #Wuhan #Coronavirus Updates are designed to keep businesses & travellers at the forefront of vital information.…

1012 06 Feb 2020

RT @CEGAGroup: There's still time to register for the #BTShow See us at Stand B340 with @SolaceGlobal and get in t…

1431 05 Feb 2020

How is technology revolutionising the assistance industry? See what our team had to say about the use of techn ai…

1653 03 Feb 2020

Our update on the #Wuhan #Coronavirus for 3 February. If you would like to continue receiving daily #updates on th…

1347 31 Jan 2020

It's been great supporting @VitusProCycling with our tracking technology, see the video for more info.…