- - Wednesday, October 23, 2013


A retired veteran of the British Royal Marines slipped into a favorite seat at his familiar coffee shop in Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall on a sunny late September day and settled down for his midday cup of joe. Shots rang out, and soon Islamic raiders ran through the shops killing everyone who looked like an infidel. Only Muslims were spared.

The Marine was armed, and his training instincts took over. Before the carnage ended he had not only returned effective fire but made trip after trip in and out of the mall to help a hundred terrified shoppers to survival and safety.

At just about the same time, a retired Irish Army Ranger came under siege with other shoppers. His training instincts took over, too. He rescued 200 shoppers. The two soldiers were part of a handful of armed civilians who joined Kenyan police and soldiers in the 48-hour battle that left 72 dead and hundreds more injured.

These hundreds owe their lives to the armed civilians in Nairobi. This went unnoticed in many of the newspaper and television accounts of the tragedy, but international law enforcement officials took note. The evidence is unmistakable, many have concluded, that terrorists have shifted focus to “soft targets” — malls, schools, hotels, hospitals and other places where the devil’s disciples know they won’t get return fire.

A thumb drive found on the body of al Qaeda terrorist Fazul Abdullah Mohammed in 2011 outlined al Qaeda’s scheme to hit schools and hotels “using attacks similar to the tactics used by our brothers in Mumbai.” The 2008 attack on hotels in India killed 155 men, women and children. The only Indians without guns were the innocent and the helpless. Al Qaeda plotted in 2011 to target ceremonies at an upper-class school to murder as many children of prominent — and unarmed — parents and teachers as possible. Another plot, to hit an upscale hotel, blocking the exits and shooting anyone attempting to flee, was foiled.

By the time the police arrive on such scenes, it’s too late to prevent tragedy. Ronald Noble, the secretary general of Interpol, the international police organization, told ABC News this week that governments facing terrorist attacks like the massacre in Nairobi must choose. They can provide perimeter protection around every hotel, mall, school and other potential target, or reconsider their gun control laws so that civilians can arm themselves to protect themselves, their families and their fellow citizens.

Mr. Noble is the first American to head Interpol. He took the job in 2000 after service as the Treasury Department’s top enforcement official, overseeing the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He knows about criminals, terrorists and guns.

Mr. Noble, who served as a political appointee in the Clinton administration, called the Nairobi attack the result of an “evolution in terrorism.” His view of the value of an armed citizenry has evolved. Mr. Noble poses a question for anti-gun enthusiasts who might have been in the Nairobi mall. “I think they have to ask themselves,” he says, “Where would you have wanted to be? In a city where there was gun control and no citizens armed or in a place like Denver or Texas?” It’s a good question.

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