Kenyan official: ‘Two or three Americans’ among the gunmen at Nairobi mall
The Kenyan foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, says “two or three” Americans are among the gunmen. Mohamed described them as “young men, about between maybe 18 and 19,” and of Somali or Arab origin.
What is al-Shabab, and is it a high priority in the U.S. war on terror? Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies explains to On Background’s Nia-Malika Henderson.
Sounds of gunfire ring out in amateur video from the attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Dozens have died since it began Saturday.
Kenyan security forces on Monday seized control of a luxury shopping mall that had been attacked by Islamist militants, but officials said some assailants remained hidden inside stores in the mall and little was known about who staged the brazen attack and what countries they came from.
A total of 62 people were killed after the gunmen, from the Islamist al-Shabab militia, burst into the Westgate Premier Shopping mall at lunchtime Saturday and began shooting, said Joseph Ole Lenku, a senior official with the Interior Ministry.
The Kenyan Red Cross earlier estimated the death toll at 69, but on Monday revised the toll to 62, saying some bodies had been double-counted, the Associated Press reported. Sixty-three people remain missing, according to the Kenyan Red Cross, and 175 people were injured.
Loud explosions and sporadic bursts of gunfire could be heard coming from the mall at midday, and large plumes of smoke rose from the area.
Lenku told reporters that “almost all of the hostages have been evacuated,” and the Interior Ministry said three of the estimated 10 to 15 militants were killed in the standoff. Ten members of the security forces were injured. The smoke billowing from the mall, Lenku added, was caused by the militants, who set fire to the Nakumatt supermarket as a tactical diversion “to distract our activities.”
“Our resolve to defend our country has never been higher,” Lenku said. “We will take the war to the criminals’ doorstep.”
But late Monday night, al-Shabab on Twitter disputed the government’s assertion that it had seized back all the floors in the mall. “Our Mujahideen are in full control of #westgate. May Allah bless them,” said the militia. Attached to the tweet was a photo showing armed fighters wearing black headscarves patrolling the top floor of the mall, but it was not clear when the photo was taken.
Gen. Julius Karangi, the chief of the Kenyan Defense Forces, said the jihadists inside the mall are “clearly a multinational collection from all over the world” — though he did not offer details. Added Karangi: “We are fighting global terrorism here.”
But the nationalities of the attackers remained unknown. A Twitter posting Sunday that was purportedly from al-Shabab described several of the attackers as Americans, but the militant group said Monday — in a different tweet — that it had not sent the earlier message and had not released the names or any other details about the individuals involved in the attack.
The later tweet was verified by the SITE Monitoring Service, which tracks statements by extremist groups.
A senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said officials were checking the initial report, that Americans were among the attackers, but had not been able to confirm it.