US Embassy Terrorist Attack Warning – Context, Assessment and Advice

The following sets out context, Castor Vali’s assessment and our advice with regard to the recent US Embassy terrorist attack warning in Nairobi. This information was included in our weekly Security Information Service (SIS) report, distributed on Thursday 05 March.


On Thursday 27 February the US Embassy in Nairobi issued a Level Two Security Alert (meaning that US citizens should “exercise increased caution”). The alert warned of a possible terrorist attack against an unidentified hotel, popular with tourists and business travelers, in Nairobi. The Kenyan police, and a range of other organisations, including some foreign governments, followed that day and the next with similar alerts. It is believed that there is no further information available on the potential target. It is further believed that the warnings that followed were based on the US alert, and not on additional intelligence reporting.

US Embassy Terrorist Attack

The detail

The US Embassy Security Alert read,

 “Terrorist groups may be plotting an attack against a major hotel in Nairobi.  The exact hotel has not been identified, but it is believed to be a hotel popular with tourists and business travelers.”

The alert went on to list the following recommended “actions to take”. These were:

  • Exercise increased vigilance when visiting or staying at hotels in the Nairobi area.
  • If staying at a hotel, be aware of the hotel’s evacuation plan. Plan ahead of time how you would exit the hotel in case of an emergency.
  • Review your personal security plans.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Monitor local media for updates.

This is all very good advice and everyone, not just US citizens, should heed it.  Perhaps the most important is to be aware of how you would exit a public building, such as a hotel or shopping mall were a terrorist attack to be launched at the location whilst you were there. Castor Vali advises all its clients to be aware of exits and escape routes whenever they are in public buildings in Nairobi.

The alert was a Level Two alert, with Level One being the least serious and Level Four being the most serious.  The image below explains what each level means, full details can be viewed at the US State Department website.

The US State Department Security Alert levels

Al-Shabaab retain the capability and intent to conduct high profile attacks in Nairobi. The last such attack was on 15 January last year, against the 14 Riverside Drive complex, that houses the Dusit D2 hotel. 26 people, including the five attackers, were killed. Such attacks require significant preparation and are infrequent. The threat, however, endures. Each year, a number of attacks are believed to be disrupted by security force actions, following accurate intelligence reporting, although information about such disrupted attacks is never publicly released.

Therefore, the US Security Alert does not come as a surprise. Castor Vali has been advising clients for some months that an attack against a high-profile venue in Nairobi is likely.

Such alerts are usually only issued when specific intelligence has been received. The UK government, for example, does not tend to issue such alerts periodically just to remind citizens. It can be assumed that some form of intelligence reporting has indicated that terrorists may be preparing or planning to conduct an attack. However, it is not believed that a specific target is known by security forces. If the target was known, it is more likely that the police or other agencies would have taken steps to disrupt the planned attack.

The US has been particularly active in conducting air strikes against al-Shabaab leadership targets in Somalia. Numerous air strikes have been conducted in recent months. On Tuesday 25 February, the US Africa Military Command Headquarters (AFRICOM), announced that it had killed a senior al-Shabaab leader, whom the US believed to have been instrumental in the planning of the 05 January attack against Manda Airfield. The airstrike took place in Saakow, Jilib in southern Somalia. Al-Shabaab, therefore, can be assumed to be motivated to demonstrate their continued capability in the wake of these attacks against their leadership.


Castor Vali advises its clients not to fixate on particular types of venue. All high-profile public places, especially those that are occupied or frequented by international tourists, business people or organisations, are potential targets for a terrorist attack. Often, terrorist attack teams are allowed the freedom to choose their own target and will spend the days preceding an attack scouting potential venues. Thus, an attack team may intend to attack a hotel, but could end up attacking a shopping mall because the hotels they wanted to target appeared to be too well protected, or vice versa.

Organisations can make their venues less attractive to such scouting teams by ensuring that their security measures, both overt and discrete, are of a high standard and are seen to be so.

Individuals can better protect themselves by understanding escape routes whilst in public places and by taking decisive action to move away from danger in the very unlikely event of an attack occurring at a venue whilst they are there. Most casualties become casualties because they have frozen through fear, or because they have waited for instructions on what to do (that never came) and not taken positive action to escape.

The terrorist threat in Nairobi will endure for some time to come. Castor Vali does not advise clients to avoid any particular type of venue, nor to take drastic steps to change their routines. We do advise clients to exercise a slightly higher level of situational awareness, to be more aware of their surroundings and crucially to know where exits are located in the public places they visit. In the very unlikely event that they have the misfortune to be involved in a terrorist attack, clients should take positive action to move away from the danger if it is possible.

For more information or support

Castor Vali has developed a bespoke selection of services, specifically designed to assist businesses to be better prepared should a terrorist attack occur at their place of work. These include Incident Preparedness Training and Terrorism Prevention and Preparedness Audit and Report.

If your business requires specialist support to ensure you are prepared effectively, please contact us:
Or call our Operations Centre (24Hrs): +254 (0) 20 440 9614, Mobile (24Hrs): +254 (0) 711 105 879

To find out more about Castor Vali and how we can help you contact us today ....