Al Shabab’s attack of the Westgate mall in Kenya had the single goal of creating a spectacle of terror. Ostensibly, the goal was to terrorize the Kenyan civilian population into demanding that the Kenyan government withdraw its troops from Somalia. But because most human beings cannot be in sympathy with people who can kill innocent civilians (including small children) and then tweet taunts and brags about it, there is nothing to be achieved beyond that moment of terror.
Terror for terror’s sake is why freedom fighters and revolutionaries historically distanced themselves from terror tactics. Part of the work done by Cuban revolutionaries and the Mau Mau freedom fighters in Kenya was to stop bandits terrorizing peasants and villagers in their names. Nelson Mandela, in his 1964 statement at the Rivonia trial, went to great lengths to explain why the ANC had sanctioned the creation of an armed wing, Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). On why they opted for sabotage as part of their guerilla warfare strategy, Mandela said it was because “sabotage did not involve loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations.”