THE WESTGATE ATTACK

A STORY OF TERRORISM, TWITTER AND CITIZEN JOURNALISM

THE 80-HOUR TERRORIST ATTACK IN NAIROBI, KENYA, TOOK PLACE BETWEEN THE 21ST AND 24TH SEPTEMBER 2013.

THE SOMALI-BASED ISLAMIC TERRORIST GROUP AL-SHABAAB CLAIMED RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ATTACK. THEY WERE ARMED WITH AK-47 ASSAULT RIFLES AND GRENADES.

THE UPMARKET WESTGATE SHOPPING MALL WAS A WELL-KNOWN CENTRE OF WESTERN EXPATRIATE LIFE IN NAIROBI. PREVIOUS WARNINGS SUGGESTED THE COMPLEX WAS IN DANGER OF A TERROR ATTACK.

THE ATTACK TOOK PLACE ON A BUSY SATURDAY MORNING, WITH APPROX. 1,000 PEOPLE INSIDE THE MALL. A LOCAL RADIO STATION WAS HOSTING A CHILDREN'S COOKING COMPETITION ON THE ROOFTOP. AS THE ATTACK BEGAN, THE WINNERS WERE ABOUT TO RECEIVE THEIR PRIZES.

AT LEAST 67 PEOPLE ARE KNOWN TO HAVE DIED, INCLUDING CHILDREN AND FOUR ATTACKERS. OVER 175 WERE INJURED.

THE PICTURE THAT HAS EMERGED IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE ATTACK IS THAT OF A WOEFULLY DISORGANISED AND INCOMPETENT RESPONSE FROM KENYAN AUTHORITIES. A CLASH OF EGOS LEFT A HANDFUL OF KENYAN OFFICERS AND ARMED VIGILANTES TO INITIALLY FIGHT HEAVILY ARMED MILITANTS, IN A BID TO RESCUE HUNDREDS OF SHOPPERS.

TWITTER WAS USED AS A MAIN COMMUNICATION CHANNEL BY ALL PARTICIPANTS, INCLUDING AL-SHABAAB AND THE VICTIMS. MAJOR NEWS WEBSITES, TV CHANNELS AND NEWSPAPERS AROUND THE WORLD USED TWITTER AS A PRIMARY SOURCE OF ATTACK-RELATED NEWS, REVEALING A NEW PATTERN OF MASS MEDIA INFORMATION COLLECTION.

MASS MEDIA COVERAGE

This timeline illustrates the most important elements of the event as depicted in the mass media, arranged by day (vertically) and time (horizontally). They consist of top ranking sources that reported the attack according to Google News. Hover over any node to read the related news piece and its source from within a specific hour. Dates and time are in EAT (East African Time).

VICTIMS BY NATIONALITY
KENYA: 48
UK: 4
INDIA: 3
CANADA: 2
FRANCE: 2
PERU: 1
SOUTH KOREA: 1
CHINA: 1
AUSTRALIA: 1
THE NETHERLANDS: 1
GHANA: 1
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: 1
SOUTH AFRICA: 1

THE ONLINE CONVERSATION

732,386 TWEETS
183,316 USERS
252,218 UNIQUE WORDS
4,843 UNIQUE HASHTAGS

TWEET MAP

This map displays the aggregated number of geolocated tweets over time, click to zoom-in on a particular area of the map. For a general overview, a histogram with the tweet frequency is presented below. The histogram is arranged as a timeline; move the blue indicator to switch the time frame displayed on the map. Hover over a red dot to see the most relevant mass media coverage from within a specific hour. Dates and time are in EAT (East African Time).

TWEET CHART

This bubble chart allows you to gain insights into the most relevant (retweeted) tweets during an specific hour, which can be selected via the timeline below.

Hover over a bubble to read the related tweet. To see the bigger picture with the aggregated amount of geolocated tweets for a selected time frame, you can scroll back to the Tweet Map. Dates and time are in EAT (East African Time).

Verified Users

Non-verified Users

AROUND 12:40, EYEWITNESSES INITIALLY REPORTED AN EXPLOSION. AT 13:05, MANY THOUGHT TO BE WITNESSING A ROBBERY. ONLY AT 13:15 DID THEY REALISE IT WAS A TERRORIST ATTACK.


@kylewestaway: “Seems like explosions and small arms fire are coming from Westlands or Gigiri #nairobi" 12:45:35PM 21/09/13
@ivygithaiga: “ROBBERY AT GUN POINT ONGOING AT #WESTGATE MALL NAIROBI......PEOPLE STAY AWAY!!!!” 1:05:17PM 21/09/2013
@desunovabeach: “Robbers don't bring grenades to a gunfight..these people should be considered terrorists..and they should be dealt with that way..#westgate" 1:16:35PM 21/09/13

FORMED IN 2006, THE STATED GOAL OF AL-SHABAAB (“THE YOUTH” IN ARABIC) IS TO OVERTHROW THE SOMALI GOVERNMENT AND ESTABLISH AN ISLAMIC EMIRATE WITH AN EXTREME VERSION OF SHARIA LAW. IT HAS COMMITTED A TOTAL OF NEARLY 550 TERRORIST ATTACKS ON THE AFRICAN CONTINENT, KILLING MORE THAN 1,600 AND WOUNDING OVER 2,100 PEOPLE.

AL-SHABAAB EXPANDED ITS ACTIVITY INTO NEIGHBOURING STATES SUCH AS KENYA AND ETHIOPIA IN RETALIATION FOR ONGOING MILITARY PRESENCE IN SOMALIA. WESTGATE WAS CHOSEN AS A SYMBOLIC TARGET TO GAIN INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION IN A REVENGE ACT AGAINST THE KENYAN GOVERNMENT.

WORD FREQUENCY

This multiple line graph depicts the usage dynamics of the most common words used to describe the attackers by Twitter users in the online conversation.

Check the box for the words you’re interested in to visualize their frequency throughout the four days of the attack. For easier comparison among words, check multiple boxes at the same time. Additionally, you can hover over a word to hide unrelated line segments.

INFLUENCE NETWORK

This force-directed graph depicts the 100 most influential users (nodes) across the four days of the online conversation. If a user has mentioned another more than 10 times, a directed link is created between them. The more often a user mentions another, the stronger the link. The more mentions a user receives, the larger the node size. This graph can be used to find hubs and communities, and to categorize user accounts. Click on a node to reveal the username and amount of mentions/retweets they have received.

At first glance, we can observe a strong core of users that frequently mention each other and effectively “make” the news.

Verified Users

Non-verified Users

THE KENYA RED CROSS USED TWITTER TO REQUEST BLOOD DONATIONS. THROUGH THE #WEAREONE INITIATIVE, HUNDREDS WERE MOBILISED.


@KenyaRedCross: “EMERGENCY Blood drive today at Kencom from 9am #Nairobi to aid #WestGate casualties” 9:15:40AM 22/09/13
@KenyaRedCross: “To Donors outside Nairobi , We will shortly announce countrywide Blood donation points #WeAreOne” 6:58:11AM 23/09/13

THE TERRORISTS THEMSELVES USED TWITTER TO JUSTIFY THEIR ACTIONS AND TAUNT THE KENYAN SECURITY FORCES.

@HSM_Press: “The Kenyan government, however, turned a deaf ear to our repeated warnings and continued to massacre innocent Muslims in SomAlia” 8:30:34PM 21/09/13
@HSM_PressOffice: “a 14-hour standoff relayed in 1400 rounds of bullets and 140 characters of vengeance and still ongoing. Good morning Kenya!” 2:19:21AM 21/09/13

REGULAR USERS, EYEWITNESSES ON THE GROUND, AS WELL AS THOSE TRAPPED INSIDE THE MALL USED TWITTER TO SPREAD THE NEWS AND ASK FOR HELP.


@KKaaria: “Dammit! A friend got shot at #Westgate. :(“ 1:17:11PM 21/09/13
@Ally_McMimz: “Someone please tell us whats being reported. Were inside hiding” 1:12:25PM 21/09/13
@jshegu:"Muslim man wrote a short prayer for a Xtian man 2memorize it in case the terrorists asked him 2say something 4rm Quran #WeAreOne @RobertAlai" 1:36:42PM 21/09/13

CREDITS

Goran Tomasevic/Reuters
Jonathan Kalan, AP Photo/File
Uriel Sinai/ GETTY IMAGES
Reuters/Siegfried Modola
AP Photo/ Jason Straziuso
Mohamed Mokhtar/AFP/Getty
Tyler Hicks
Farah Abdi Warsameh / AP
Red Cross
AP Photo/Sayyid Azim
Twitter
File, AFP
Stringer/Reuters
Dai Kurokawa/EPA

Authors:
Bart Witteveen
Cristina Meniuc
Konstantinos Chronopoulos
Luka Stout
Marco De Nadai
Nick Vieira
Timur Carpeev