(Photo: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic)
The FBI is investigating whether or not Americans were among the terrorists who killed at least 62 people in a deadly attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi. As of Monday morning, hostages were still being held, and firing between militants from the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group and security forces continued.
A Twitter account, claiming to be a press feed from al Shabaab, named nine of the gunmen who launched an attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall on the weekend that has left at least 62 dead (earlier report said 69 people were killed, but some bodies were counted twice, Kenyan Red Cross says) and more than 175 wounded. It said three of them are from the United States and one each from Canada, Finland and the United Kingdom.
While the authenticity of the Twitter feed has not been established, al Shabaab sources told CNN that Americans were among the alleged hostage-takers. A senior State Department official also said that authorities are becoming more confident that U.S. citizens were involved.
Two of the alleged militants from the United States are believed to be from Minnesota and Missouri. Al Shabaab has reportedly been recruiting members of Somali-American families, especially the relatives of those who have died in anti-terrorist operations in Somalia, in the two U.S. states. A federal grand jury in 2010 charged 14 people in the United States with aiding al Shabaab.
The weekend attack on Westgate Mall is being seen as the deadliest terrorist strike in the country since the 1998 bombing of the American Embassy in Nairobi. On Saturday, the gunmen opened fire at shoppers in Nairobi mall while a radio station was hosting a children's cooking competition at the mall and the winners were about to receive prizes.
The fighting between security forces and gunmen continues. Reuters' reporters heard sporadic shots and also heavy bursts of rifle fire and muffled blasts on at least two occasions after daybreak on Monday. While security forces had secured most of the mall by Sunday, an unknown number of hostages were still being held by about 15 gunmen inside the shopping mall.
Colonel Cyrus Oguna, a Kenyan military spokesman, told Reuters that "a very small number" were still captive, without giving a precise figure. CNN reports that security officials said there are about 10 remaining hostages on Monday.
"We will not negotiate with terrorists," Oguna said.
An alleged spokesman from al Shabaab released an audio statement, warning that hostages will be killed if security personnel use force. "Israelis and Kenyan forces have tried to enter Westgate by force but they could not. The mujahideen will kill the hostages if the enemies use force," Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said in the statement.
Witnesses say the gunmen asked Muslims to leave, and that only non-Muslims would be targeted.
U.S. President Barack Obama has offered condolences and support to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Five Americans have been wounded in the attack. Among those killed include a nephew of the Kenyan president, a French mother and daughter, and a diplomat from Canada. Other victims came from Britain, China and the Netherlands.
Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack on its Twitter feed on Saturday, saying: "The attack at #WestgateMall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders… For long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land, now it's time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land."
Al Shabaab appears to be reacting to Kenyan troops' presence in Somalia to fight Islamist terrorist groups.
Al Shabaab's real name is Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (Mujahideen Youth Movement), and it is an al Qaeda-linked terror group that controls most of southern Somalia.
The terror group splintered from a now defunct group of Sharia courts, the Islamic Courts Union. It is seeking to overthrow the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, created in 2004 and supported by the African Union, the United Nations and the United States. Since the outbreak of the 1991 civil war, which overthrew President Siad Barre's regime, most parts of Somalia have had no formal government. The transitional government controls only a small part of the country.