(page 2 of 2)
U.S. President Barack 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.
“The investigators will be looking to see what information they can extract to identify the terrorists and their nationalities, including DNA tests,” a senior official from the National Disaster Operation Centre told Reuters, after officials described the attack as a “multinational” operation.
Eleven people suspected of involvement with the well-planned assault are in custody, but Kenyan officials have not said how many, if any, were gunmen taken alive and how many may have been people arrested elsewhere.
It was unclear whether intelligence reports of American or British gunmen would be confirmed. Al Shabaab denied that any women took part, after British sources said the fugitive widow of one of the 2005 London suicide bombers might have some role.
In Washington, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Wednesday there had been no verification that Americans were involved in the mall attack.
A thin trail of smoke still drifted up on Wednesday above the Israeli-built shopping complex, a symbol of Africa’s economic rise that has drawn in foreign investors.
Faster growth has also created wider wealth gaps, adding to grievances tapped by several violent Islamist groups from Mali to Algeria and Nigeria to Kenya. All have espoused an anti-Western, anti-Christian creed.
“If #Westgate was Kenya’s symbol of prosperity, it is now a symbol of their vulnerability, a symbol of defeat and overall Kenyan impotence,” al Shabaab said on its Twitter account, one of several taunts it sent after the attack.
Al Shabaab, which derided Kenya as it was battling militants inside the mall, said action by Kenyan troops using gas were responsible for the “lives of the 137 hostages who were being held by the mujahideen (fighters).”
Ole Lenku said he could not confirm intelligence reports of British and American militants. One cabinet minister had earlier denied speculation that women were among the guerrillas, but said some had been dressed as women, a possible ploy to get weapons past the mall’s unarmed private security 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.
The group dismissed comments by one Kenyan minister that two or three of the militants were young Somali or Arab Americans.
A British security source said it was possible Samantha Lewthwaite, widow of one of the London suicide bombers of July 7 2005, was involved in the Nairobi siege. “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.
Kenyatta thanked other leaders, including 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.
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. 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.
Al Shabaab had threatened revenge since Kenyan troops joined the war against Islamists in its northern neighbour two years ago. The group has created funding, recruiting and training networks in Kenya.