September 24, 2013

Mall attackers include Americans, Kenya says

The Kenyan Foreign Minister says 'two or three Americans' and 'one Brit' were among the militants.

By SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

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Civilians who had been hiding inside during the gun battle manage to flee from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Gunmen threw grenades and opened fire Saturday, killing at least 22 people in an attack targeting non-Muslims at an upscale mall in Kenya's capital that was hosting a children's day event, a Red Cross official and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Jonathan Kalan)

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Lenku, the Interior Ministry official, said that "almost all of the hostages have been evacuated," and officials said three of the estimated 10 to 15 militants were killed in the standoff. Ten people in Kenya have been detained in connection with the investigation, officials said.

Ten members of the security forces were injured. "Our resolve to defend our country has never been higher," Lenku said.

But late Monday night, al-Shabab used Twitter to dispute the government's assertion that it had seized control of all the floors in the mall. "Our Mujahideen are in full control of #westgate. May Allah bless them," the militia said. Attached to the tweet was a photo showing armed fighters in black head scarves patrolling the top floor of the mall, but it was not clear when the picture was taken.

Twitter postings on Sunday that purportedly were from al-Shabab described several of the jihadists as American. But the militant group said Monday — on a different Twitter handle, which was verified by the SITE Monitoring Service, which tracks statements by extremist groups — that it had not sent the earlier messages. Nor had it released the names or any other details about the attackers, it said.

President Obama said Monday that the United States stood with Kenya's leadership "against this terrible outrage that's occurred."

"We will provide them with whatever law enforcement help that is necessary," he said

The U.S. government is contributing "technical support and some equipment to assist Kenyan security forces" in responding to the attack, a State Department official said Monday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The department said American military personnel based at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi have been helping the Kenyans.

George Little, a Pentagon spokesman, said no U.S. troops have been sent to Kenya to provide assistance.

The involvement of the United States, Israel and other countries underscores the West's concerns about al-Shabab's reach. Numerous foreigners have joined the militia, whose name in Arabic means "The Youth," including several dozen Americans, many of Somali origin, according to counterterrorism analysts.

Reports that the gunmen spoke English suggest that they were not natives of Somalia, where citizens generally speak Somali.

The militants were using "big-caliber guns," said Frank Musungu, a Kenyan army warrant officer who was at the mall when the militants stormed it on Saturday. "There was one woman among them. She had an AK-47."

Foreigners have reached high ranks in the Somali extremist group. One senior field commander, Omar Shafik Hammami, an Alabama native who went by the name Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, starred in propaganda rap videos to attract Western recruits. He was reportedly killed last month by his comrades after a falling out with the militia's top leadership.

The foreign jihadists were the militia's main link to al-Qaida's leadership in Pakistan and have been central players in some of the militia's most gruesome attacks. In September 2009, a Somali American from Seattle drove a truck bomb into an African Union base in Somalia, killing 21 peacekeepers.

Even though many U.S. counterterorism officials and analysts say al-Shabab does not have the capability to strike the United States, some U.S. politicians are concerned. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.,, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview with ABC's "This Week" that he assumed that law enforcement agencies are looking at ways to prevent a similar attack in the United States.

"We know there's probably still 15-20 Somali-Americans who are still active over there," King said. "The concern would be if any of them have come back to the United States and would use those abilities here in the United States."

Details about the identities of the victims continued to trickle out Monday. They included Kofi Awoonor, a well-known Ghanaian poet, professor and former diplomat; a retired tropical disease specialist from Peru; the president of a football club in Kenya; a Canadian diplomat; and a 33-year-old Dutch researcher who worked for the Clinton Health Access Initiative and had just earned a degree from Harvard University, according to the Associated Press.

"We lost one of our foundation's people there, one of our health access workers who was a wonderful Dutch nurse who was in Nairobi because she was about to have a baby," former President Bill Clinton told "PBS Newshour." He added: "She and the baby's father were just strolling through the mall. It's tragic."

The father, an Australian architect who works in Africa, also was killed in the attack, the AP reported.

 

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