Kenyan officials say U.S. & British citizens suspected in Nairobi terrorist attack

Top Kenyan officials say that several U.S. and British citizens may have taken part in the Westgate Mall attack carried out by Al Shabaab, a Somalia-based Islamist militant group affiliated with Al Qaeda.

“From the information that we have, two or three Americans,” said Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed in an interview with PBS News Hour on Monday. “The Americans – from the information we have – are young men about between maybe 18 and 19…All Somali origin or Arab origin but that, you know, lived in the U.S. in Minnesota and one other place.”

Al Shabaab reportedly posted the names of Americans who took part in the attack on Twitter. (Because the information cannot be independently verified at this time, will not publish the names of the individuals identified on Al Shabaab’s Twitter account.) Mohamed’s statement seemed to confirm Al Shabaab’s claims.

White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said the U.S. is investigating the possible participation of Americans in the Nairobi attack.

“All we’ve seen are the same reports coming out of Al Shabaab that indicate information along those lines. But we have to run those to the ground, of course,” said Rhodes. “We do monitor very carefully and have for some time been concerned about efforts by Al Shabaab to recruit Americans or U.S. persons to come to Somalia. So this is an issue that has been tracked very closely by the U.S. government, and it’s one that we’ll be looking into in the days ahead.”

Mohamed indicated that one British-born woman is also among the perpetrators. “She’s, I think, done this many times before,” said Mohamed.

Mohamed’s comment fueled speculation that Samantha Lewthwaite, known as the “White Widow”, may have been involved in the Nairobi attack. Lewthwaite, 29, was married to one of the four suicide bombers in the 7/7 attacks in London eight years ago. (Interpol on Thursday issued a “red notice” for Lewthwaite’s arrest; she is believed to have used the alias “Natalie Webb” to enter Kenya.)

About 10 to 15 heavily armed terrorists stormed into the Westgate Mall in Nairobi around noon on Saturday, throwing grenades and spraying gunfire at shoppers.

As of Tuesday, the death toll was at 67. 61 civilians, including children, and 6 security officers were killed, and more than 62 wounded remain hospitalized. However, the casualty count is expected rise after three floors of the mall collapsed shortly after Kenyan forces began their final assault to flush out the terrorists. On Monday, witnesses said they heard loud explosions and thick black smoke billowed from the mall shortly thereafter.

In a televised address on Tuesday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the end of the Westgate standoff and said that 5 terrorists were killed by Kenyan security forces and 11 suspects are in custody.

“We have ashamed and defeated our attackers,” said Kenyatta, who thanked Kenya’s multi-agency security forces for their “excellent work”.

Although Kenyatta said that initial intelligence reports suggested that “a British woman and two or three American citizens” may have been involved in the attack, he said those reports cannot be confirmed until the forensic investigation is completed.

“We cannot confirm the details at present but forensic experts are working to ascertain the nationalities of the terrorists,” said Kenyatta. “I promise that we shall have a full accountability for the mindless destruction, deaths, pain, loss and suffering we have all undergone as a national family. These cowards will meet justice as will their accomplices and patrons wherever they are.”

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