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2 Americans 1 Briton Among Kenya Mall Attackers

Posted by on Tuesday, September 24, 2013, 9:54
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Two or three Americans and one Briton were among those behind an attack on an upscale Nairobi shopping mall that has lasted for three days and left more than 60 people dead,  Kenya’s foreign minister has said Monday.

Kenya Mall Attackers

Kenya Mall Attackers

While the government announced Sunday that “most” hostages had been released, at least 10 were still being held by a band of attackers described as “a multinational collection from all over the world,” a security expert with contacts inside the mall told The Associated Press.

The foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, said in an interview with PBS’ “NewsHour” program that the Americans were 18 to 19 years old, of Somali or Arab origin and lived “in Minnesota and one other place” in the U.S. The attacker from Britain was a woman who has “done this many times before,” Mohamed said.

Authorities in Kenya were trying to wrap up their bloody standoff late Monday with al-Shabab, a group allied with Al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, the FBI and U.S intelligence officials are “aggressively” investigating whether or not Americans were among the militants who attacked the mall, a federal law enforcement source told Fox News.

FBI officials told Fox they cannot yet confirm or deny whether any of the assailants are or were Americans.  “We just don’t know yet. We’re still trying to figure it out,” said the source.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday the department had “no definitive evidence of the nationalities or the identities” of the attackers.

White House spokesman Ben Rhodes said U.S. officials have seen “reports coming out of al-Shabab that indicate information along those lines,” referring to possible involvement of Americans in the attack.

“But we have to run those to ground, of course,” he said.  “We do monitor very carefully and have for some time been concerned about efforts by al-Shabab to recruit Americans or U.S. persons to come to Somalia.

“This is an issue that has been tracked very closely by the U.S. government, and it’s one that we’ll be looking into in the days ahead.”

There was no answer at the Kenyan Mission at the United Nations on Monday night.

Mohamed said Kenya needs to work with other governments to fight the increasing terrorist threat and “much more with the U.S and the U.K., because both the victims and the perpetrators came from Kenya, the United Kingdom and the United States. From the information we have, two or three Americans and so far I’ve heard of one Brit.”

She added: “That just goes to underline the global nature of this war that we are fighting.”

Sources tell Fox News that Kenyan security forces exchanged fire with what was believed to be 10 to 15 gunmen hiding on the top floor of the building for several hours Monday morning, neutralizing most of them. Kenya’s chief of defense forces says troops are in control of all floors inside the mall — though he says terrorists could still be hiding inside.

Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku told the press that three militants died and more hostages were freed in the efforts to end the ongoing siege waged since Saturday by al-Shabab. Lenku said the evacuation of hostages has gone “very, very well” and that Kenyan officials are “very certain” that there are few if any hostages left in the building. The government has never said how many hostages they believe were being held.

Officials say at least 62 people were killed and 200 wounded in the weekend attack, while 63 were reported missing.

Four booming blasts shook the building Monday morning, sending plumes of thick smoke into the sky. The gunmen holed up inside the mall had caused the smoke by setting mattresses on fire in a supermarket as a decoy, according to a Reuters report.

By evening, Kenyan security officials claimed the upper hand.

“Taken control of all the floors. We’re not here to feed the attackers with pastries but to finish and punish them,” Police Inspector General David Kimaiyo said on Twitter.

Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said the evacuation of hostages had gone “very, very well” and that Kenyan officials were “very certain” that few if any hostages were left in the building.

But with the mall cordoned off and under heavy security it was not possible to independently verify the assertions. Similar claims of a quick resolution were made by Kenyan officials on Sunday and the siege continued. Authorities have also not provided any details on how many hostages were freed or how many still remain captive.

Three attackers were killed in the fighting Monday, Kenyan authorities said, and more than 10 suspects arrested. Eleven Kenyan soldiers were wounded in the running gun battles.

Somalia’s al-Qaida-linked rebel group, al-Shabab, which claimed responsibility for the attack, said the hostage-takers were well-armed and ready to take on the Kenyan forces.

An al-Shabab spokesman, Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, said in an audio file posted on a militant website that the attackers had been ordered to “take punitive action against the hostages” if force was used to try to rescue them.

The attackers have lots of ammunition, the militant group said in a Twitter feed, adding that Kenya’s government would be responsible for any loss of hostages’ lives.

A Western security official in Nairobi who insisted on not being named to share information about the rescue operation said the only reason the siege hadn’t yet ended would be because hostages were still inside.

President Obama said the U.S. was providing all the cooperation possible to Kenya. “I want to express personally not only my condolences to President Kenyatta who lost two family members in the attack, but to the Kenyan people.We stand with them against this terrible outrage that’s occurred. We will provide them with whatever law enforcement support that is necessary,” Obama said during a meeting with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in New York Monday.

The militants specifically targeted non-Muslims, and at least 18 foreigners were among the dead, including six Britons, as well as citizens from France, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Peru, India, Ghana, South Africa and China.  Nearly 200 people were wounded, including five Americans.

The al-Shabab extremist Islamic terrorist force grew out of the anarchy that crippled Somalia after warlords ousted a longtime dictator in 1991. Its name means “The Youth” in Arabic, and it was a splinter youth wing of a weak Islamic Courts Union government created in 2006 to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the East African nation.

Al-Shabab is estimated to have several thousand fighters, including a few hundred foreign fighters. Some of the insurgents’ foreign fighters are from the Middle East with experience in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Others are young, raw recruits from Somali communities in the United States and Europe.

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