Kenyan intelligence reports suggest two Americans, who fought previously in Somalia, could be among the perpetrators of the four-day siege at a Nairobi shopping mall. U.S. officials are said to be looking into the claim that those gunman may be from the large Somali expatriate community based in Minnesota. U.S. Rep. Peter King, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, claims that 15 to 20 Somali-Americans are active in Al-Shabab (“The Youth” in Arabic), and that up to 50 people from Somali communities across the U.S. have been recruited by the Somali terrorist organization. Reports also suggest a British woman, Samantha Lewthwaite, could be involved in the attack as well. Lewthwaite is the window of Germaine Lindsay, an Islamist who killed 26 people in the “7/7” terrorist attacks on London’s transit system.
People who had been hiding during the gun battle hold their hands before being searched by armed police inside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Sept. 21, 2013. (Photo: AP)
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the nation on Tuesday, saying the siege had ended after terrorists claimed the lives 61 civilians and six soldiers. However, gunfire continued to ring out for much of the day, as security forces cleared the upscale shopping center. In the days prior, up to 16 assailants, dressed in black and wearing turbans, targeted Westerners and non-Muslims as they threw grenades and fired automatic weapons. Kenyan officials released new details on the victims and perpetrators. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the killings on Twitter.
Al-Shabab spokesmen said the attack was in response to the Kenyan government’s intervention in neighboring Somalia. Both Ugandan and Kenyan forces, under the African Union (AU) auspices, have suffered retaliatory attacks for helping the Somali central government fight Al-Shabab militants. In 2010, the Islamists terrorists carried out a double suicide bombing in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, killing 76 people. Comprising between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters, the al-Qaeda-linked organization hopes to impose strict Sharia law and oust the African Union forces from Somalia.
Even with its ability to launch attacks across the region, a split remains among the group’s ranks. Some fighters want to form a regional Caliphate while others seek to concentrate their efforts against foreign troops inside Somalia. Events in Kenya show al-Shabab’s ability to project violence as the group continues to pose a major security challenge across East Africa.