Kenyan Attack Death Toll May Rise as Mall Rubble Searched

Kenyan security forces expect to find the bodies of more gunmen responsible for slaying at least 67 people and seizing an unknown number of hostages in an attack on the Westgate Mall, the government said.

Kenyan forensic investigators at the scene of the raid are being assisted by experts from Israel, the U.S., Germany, Canada and Britain in a probe that’s expected to last at least seven days, Interior Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku said yesterday. The investigation will look into reports that attackers rented a shop in the mall before the assault was carried out and that at least one of the assailants may have been female, he said.

“We are convinced that there will be insignificant if any bodies holed up there except for the terrorists,” Ole Lenku told reporters in Nairobi, the capital. Five of as many as 15 gunmen involved in the attack have been confirmed dead, he said.

The death toll from the four-day attack is the worst since al-Qaeda bombed the U.S. Embassy in downtown Nairobi in August 1998, killing 213 people. Al-Shabaab, the Somali-based Islamist militia that claimed responsibility for the Sept. 21 raid, had threatened to strike after Kenya deployed troops in Somalia in October 2011 to fight the militants, blaming them for a series of kidnappings and the murder of a British tourist in Kenya. The al-Qaeda-affiliated group denied the accusations.

Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane, in an audio message, said his fighters carried out the mall attack, and warned of “more bloodshed” unless Kenya withdraws its forces from Somalia, Xinhua news agency reported today.

Buried Bodies

Three floors in the Nairobi building collapsed during the attack, leaving an unknown number of bodies buried beneath the rubble, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Sept. 24. Kenyan security forces used armored vehicles and weapons including heavy machine guns to end the assault. The Kenya Red Cross said today that 71 people were missing in the attack as of yesterday.

Al-Shabaab said on its Twitter account yesterday that Kenyan forces demolished part of the building and were “culpable” for the lives of 137 hostages. Interior Ministry Principal Secretary Mutea Iringo declined to comment when asked about that figure.

There is “increased public anxiety on account of missing persons, the disruption caused by the continued crisis and inadequate information flow,” it said. Ole Lenku didn’t say how many people are still missing.

Relative Stability

Kenya’s relative stability in a volatile region has attracted companies including Toyota Motor Corp., International Business Machines Corp., General Electric Corp. and Google Inc. to set up bases in the East African nation. The United Nations’ African headquarters are also in Nairobi.

The attack may curb government revenue and is credit negative, Moody’s Investors Service said in a Credit Outlook report today. The biggest impact on the country’s economic growth will be on its tourism industry, which accounts for 12.5 percent of gross domestic product, it said.

The shilling advanced for a third day, strengthening 0.1 percent to 87.11 per dollar and heading for its strongest close since July 19. The Nairobi Securities Exchange’s FTSE NSE 25 Index gained 1 percent to 166.32.

The attack began around lunchtime on Sept. 21 when as many as 15 gunmen entered the upscale mall in Nairobi, throwing hand grenades, firing automatic weapons and forcing panicked patrons to flee the building or hide inside the more than 80 shops in the complex. The government said more than 1,000 people were rescued.

Final Sweep

More gunfire rang out yesterday, which the government said was the result of security forces firing to protect themselves as they entered new areas while doing a final sweep of the building, the Associated Press reported.

Investigators are still trying to confirm the nationalities of the attackers, Ole Lenku said. Kenyan Foreign Secretary Amina Mohamed told PBS’s “NewsHour” on Sept. 23 that two or three Americans and a female British citizen participated in the attack. A British national has been arrested in Kenya, according to a statement e-mailed today by the U.K. Foreign Office.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday that investigators haven’t confirmed claims that Americans participated in the attack. “At this point, we don’t have any verification that any Americans have been involved in the attack as attackers,” he told reporters in Washington.

Citizens from the U.K., India, France, Canada, South Africa, China and Ghana are among the dead.

Fighting Al-Shabaab

African leaders remain committed to continue battling al-Shabaab’s forces in Somalia, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council said in a statement on its website.

The continental body will “continue its efforts in Somalia, in order to rid the country and the region of terrorist and criminal groups, and bring about lasting peace, security and stability in Somalia,” it said.

Al-Shabaab has been fighting Somalia’s government since at least 2006. The militant group claimed responsibility in July 2010 for coordinated bomb attacks in neighboring Uganda that killed 76 people watching the soccer World Cup final at two venues. Al-Shabaab said it targeted Uganda because the country had troops serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia.

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