* Kenyatta says Islamist assailants "defeated"
* Somali group says Kenyan troops used gas, but Kenya denies
* Unknown number of bodies under rubble of collapsed floors
* Al Shabaab leader demands Kenyan troops leave Somalia
By Richard Lough and Abdi Sheikh
NAIROBI/MOGADISHU, Sept 26 U.S., British and
Israeli agencies are helping Kenya investigate an attack claimed
by Somali Islamist militants on a Nairobi shopping mall that
killed at least 72 people and destroyed part of the complex,
officials said on Wednesday.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Tuesday that troops had
defeated the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group after a four-day
siege at the shopping centre popular with prosperous Kenyans and
foreigners. He declared three days of mourning.
The attack has highlighted the reach of al Shabaab and the
capabilities of its crack unit which claimed responsibility for
the bloodshed in the Westgate mall, confirming international
fears that Somalia would remain a recruiting and training ground
for militant Islam as long as it remained in turmoil.
The militants stormed the mall, known for its Western shops
selling iPads and Nike shoes, in a hail of gunfire and grenades
at lunchtime on Saturday.
Late on Wednesday night, al Shabaab's leader for the first
time confirmed claims by his group's members that it was behind
the attack on the mall.
In an audio posted on the al Shabaab-linked website
www.somalimemo.net, Ahmed Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu
al-Zubayr, said the attack was in retaliation for Kenya's
incursion in October 2011 into southern Somalia to crush the
"Take your troops out or prepare for a long-lasting war,
blood, destruction and evacuation," Godane said in the message
delivered in the Somali language and apparently directed at the
Kenyan government. Kenyan troops are fighting alongside African
peacekeepers against the militants in Somalia.
Al Shabaab had threatened revenge since Kenyan troops joined
the conflict, warning that they would bring the "flames of war"
to a country that is east Africa's biggest economy. The group
has created funding, recruiting and training networks in Kenya.
"You are part of the massacre Kenya carried out in Kismayu
and in other towns because you had elected your politicians. The
tax you pay is used to arm Uhuru (Kenyatta) forces that massacre
Muslims. You had supported the fight against us," Godane said in
the message apparently directed to Kenyans.
Kenyatta has said Kenyan forces would not leave Somalia.
The attack on the mall ended on Tuesday when Kenyan troops
detonated explosives to get through locked doors inside the mall
as they searched for militants or booby traps.
"We have moved to the next phase," Interior Minister Joseph
Ole Lenku told a news conference.
He said that alongside U.S., British and Israeli agencies,
Kenya was also receiving help from Germany, Canada and the
international police agency Interpol in the investigation.
He said he did not expect the death toll of 61 civilians,
six members of the security forces and five attackers to rise
significantly, and that the only bodies still likely to be found
were those of slain assailants.
Three floors collapsed after the blasts and a separate fire
weakened the structure of the vaulted, marble-tiled building.
Officials said the blaze arose from militants lighting
mattresses as a decoy.
Kenya has said 10 to 15 attackers launched the raid. Ole
Lenku said the investigation would seek to ascertain if there
were any females among the assailants, as some witness accounts
suggested, and would also see if the groups had rented a store
in the mall prior to the attack as part of their preparation.
Al Shabaab said hostages were killed when Kenyan troops used
gas to clear the mall, an allegation that officials dismissed as
"We have ashamed and defeated our attackers," Kenyatta said
in his televised address on Tuesday.
U.S. President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, said
he believed the country - scene of one of al Qaeda's first big
attacks, the 1998 bombing that 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 if
any were gunmen who may have been taken alive by security
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 had a 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.
The group, 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, the 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
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.
Shabaab's Godane, however, warned of the danger that lay
ahead for Kenya if it did not withdraw from Somalia.
"Kenyan people, you have entered a war against your
interest. You will lose your security and economy," he said.