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Kenya's president says his military has 'ashamed and defeated' Islamist militants inside mall

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

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Kenya’s president says his military has “ashamed and defeated” Al Qaeda-linked terrorists in an apparent end to a standoff and hostage situation inside a popular mall that lasted for four days.

Uhuru Kenyatta said in a national address Tuesday that Kenya’s armed forces were able to kill five of the militants and took eleven into custody. He said 67 people were killed in the violence, including six security officers, and called for three days of national mourning beginning Wednesday.

Earlier Tuesday, the al-Shabab terror group, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks, said its fighters were still holding out inside Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, despite claims from Kenya that said otherwise.

“There are countless number of dead bodies still scattered inside the mall, and the Mujahideen are still holding their ground,” al-Shabab wrote on its Twitter account.

The group’s previous Twitter accounts had been shut down, according to Reuters.

That message was followed with a tweet that said "The hostages who were being held by the Mujahideen inside #Westgate are still alive, looking quite disconcerted but, nevertheless, alive.''

Authorities said Tuesday they were involved in a final push to clear out the remaining attackers. But authorities have before referred to their operations as final, and with the building cordoned off and under heavy security, it was not possible to independently verify the assertions.

"Troops now in mop up operations in the building," a Kenyan police tweet said on Tuesday. On Monday night, Kenyan officials said they were “in control,” according to Reuters.

Explosions and more gunfire were heard coming from the mall Tuesday, while a plane and helicopter circled over it.

Kenyan officials say three soldiers have died and eight others were injured on Tuesday.

While the government announced Sunday that "most" hostages had been released, at least 10 were still being held earlier Tuesday by a band of attackers described as "a multinational collection from all over the world," a security expert with contacts inside the mall told The Associated Press.

A government official said Tuesday that Nairobi's morgue is preparing for the arrival of a large number of bodies from the mall. Morgue employees were dressed in smocks early Tuesday, though no bodies had been delivered. A city resident whose brother took part in the military operation inside the mall said there were many dead bodies still inside.

Both the government official and the Nairobi resident insisted their names not be used so they would not face retribution from officials.

A U.S. Embassy vehicle, identifiable by its numbered diplomatic license plate, arrived at the morgue on Tuesday. American officials have not confirmed the deaths of any U.S. citizens in the mall attack, but it appeared possible the Americans who visited the morgue — likely security officials with an agency like the FBI — could have been seeking information about one of the bodies inside.

Meanwhile, Kenya's foreign minister claimed in a television interview Monday that two or three Americans and one Briton were among those behind the attack.

The foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, said in an interview with PBS' "NewsHour" program that the Americans were 18 to 19 years old, of Somali or Arab origin and lived "in Minnesota and one other place" in the U.S. The attacker from Britain was a woman who has "done this many times before," Mohamed said.

FBI and U.S. intelligence officials have been "aggressively" investigating whether or not Americans were among the militants who attacked the mall, a federal law enforcement source told Fox News on Sunday.

"We just don't know yet. We're still trying to figure it out," the source said.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday the department had "no definitive evidence of the nationalities or the identities" of the attackers.

White House spokesman Ben Rhodes added that U.S. officials have seen "reports coming out of al-Shabab that indicate information along those lines," referring to possible involvement of Americans in the attack.

Mohamed's statement also fueled speculation in the British press that a 29-year-old woman named Samantha Lewthwaite was involved in the attacks. Lewthwaite, a native of Buckinghamshire who converted to Islam at age 15 and was believed by Western intelligence agencies to be in East Africa, is the widow of Germaine Lindsay, one of the perpetrators of the July 7, 2005 suicide attacks on London's transport system during the morning rush hour. British security sources contacted by Reuters said that Lewthwaite's involvement in the attack was possible, but cautioned that no definitive information had been received.

Sources tell Fox News that Kenyan security forces exchanged fire with what was believed to be 10 to 15 gunmen hiding on the top floor of the mall for several hours Monday morning, neutralizing most of them.

In the initial Saturday attack, the militants specifically targeted non-Muslims, and at least 18 foreigners were among the dead, including six Britons, as well as citizens from France, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Peru, India, Ghana, South Africa and China.  Nearly 200 people were wounded, including five Americans.

The al-Shabab extremist Islamic terrorist force – which is estimated to have several thousand fighters -- grew out of the anarchy that crippled Somalia after warlords ousted a longtime dictator in 1991. Its name means "The Youth" in Arabic, and it was a splinter youth wing of a weak Islamic Courts Union government created in 2006 to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the East African nation.

Al-Shabab said it attacked the mall as retaliation for Kenya's involvement in a crackdown on Islamic militants in neighboring Somalia.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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