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Kenyatta said he could not confirm intelligence reports of British and American militants, adding that forensic tests were being carried out to establish their nationalities. The government denied speculation that women were among the guerrillas, but said some had been dressed as women. That may have been a ploy to smuggle more weapons past mall guards.
It is unusual, if not unknown, for Islamist militants to use female fighters: “We have an adequate number of young men who are fully committed & we do not employ our sisters in such military operations #Westgate,” al Shabaab said on Twitter.
It also dismissed comments by a Kenyan minister that two or three of the militants were young Somali or Arab Americans.
A British security source said it was possible that Samantha Lewthwaite, widow of Germaine Lindsay one of the London suicide bombers of July 7 2005, was involved in the Nairobi siege in some way. “It is a possibility. But nothing definitive or conclusive yet,” the source said.
Lewthwaite is wanted in connection with an alleged plot to attack expensive hotels and restaurants in Kenya.
Making no mention of gunmen still in the mall, al Shabaab also drew a link to the most recent Islamist attack in London, when a soldier was stabbed to death on a busy street in May in the suburb of Woolwich. Michael Adebolajo and a fellow British Muslim convert of Nigerian descent face trial for murder.
“It’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…’ Remember Mujahid Adebolajo? This is what he meant. His was #Woolwich, #Westgate ours!” read another al Shabaab Twitter post.
“These cowards will meet justice as will their accomplices and patrons, wherever they are,” said Kenyatta.
He thanked other leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, for their support and used his address to praise the response of the Kenyan people and call for national unity, six months after his election was marked by ethnic tensions.
“Kenya has stared down evil and triumphed,” he said.
Many Kenyans agree that the bloodshed has helped foster a greater sense of national unity.
“We are all talking about it. The one good thing is that the whole of Kenya has become one, except for al Shabaab,” said Vipool Shah, who helped pull bodies out of the mall.
Kenyatta’s focus on Kenya’s troubles, and of his role in a global campaign against terrorism, was a reminder that he faces trial at The Hague in a few weeks time for crimes against humanity over violence that followed a 2007 election. The International Criminal Court adjourned the trial of his vice president this week because of the Westgate attack.
Kenyatta and his government have urged the ICC to drop the case and warm words for the Kenyan leadership from Western allies during the siege may have boosted their hopes that the court might be pressed to shelve proceedings in the interests of shoring up an important partner in the fight against al Qaeda.
The Nairobi attack came at a time when several violent Islamist groups from Mali to Algeria and Nigeria to Kenya have tapped into local grievances. But all have espoused an anti-Western, anti-Christian creed and are striking at state authority and international interests.
Regional intelligence experts believe the Nairobi raiders were members of a crack unit loyal to leader Ahmed Godane, who has been seeking to rebrand al Shabaab as a significant international jihadist group.
Al Shabaab had threatened revenge since Kenyan troops joined the war against Islamists in its chaotic northern neighbour two years ago. The group created funding, recruiting and training networks in Kenya. Kenyatta dismissed an al Shabaab demand to pull Kenyan troops from Somalia after the mall siege began.
The attack bears out Western concern that Somalia, a hotspot in the U.S.-led war on Islamist militants across the globe, may be a launchpad for strikes on regional countries even as African troops put them on the defensive in the Horn of Africa state.
Obama, whose father was Kenyan, said he believed the country - scene of one of al Qaeda’s first big attacks, in 1998, when a bomb devastated the U.S. embassy in Nairobi - would continue to be a regional pillar of stability.
Somalia’s prime minister appealed in Geneva for international support to combat al Shabaab, but said a military solution to their insurgency alone was not enough.
Abdi Farah Shirdon said: “We still have a difficult journey ahead of us. A military solution alone is not enough, promotion of rule of law, greater regional cooperation and economic stability and provision of public services are all key factors.”