Report: Americans among al Shabaab terrorist group behind Westgate Mall massacre

Kenyan military chief says group is "multinational collection."

September 24, 2013 04:50
3 minute read.
Smoke rises from the Westgate shopping centre

Smoke rises from the Westgate shopping centre. (photo credit: Reuters)


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Kenyan military chief Julius Karangi said Monday that some of the al-Shabaab terrorists involved in the attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Center may be of American citizenship.

Many witnesses said they heard the attackers shouting commands at each other in English during the attack which killed 62 people. Karangi insisted that the gunmen inside the mall were “clearly a multinational collection from all over the world.”

Al Shabaab, whose name in Arabic means “The Youth,” includes several dozen American recruits, according to Washington Post counter-terrorism analysts.

The Post reported on Tuesday that Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed confirmed “two or three Americans” and “one Brit” were among the militants who perpetrated the attack.

In an interview Monday with PBS Newshour, Mohamed reportedly explained that the American attackers were 18 to 19 years old, of Somali or Arab origin and lived “in Minnesota and one other place” in United States.

One intelligence officer and two soldiers also told Reuters that one of the dead militants was a white woman, and speculation over their identities began to rise.

Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said they were all men but that some had dressed as women.

The British jihadist was a woman who has “done this many times before,” Mohamed reportedly said.

This is likely to fuel speculation that she is the wanted widow of one of the suicide bombers who together killed more than 50 people on London's transport system in 2005.

Called the "white widow" by the British press, Samantha Lewthwaite is wanted in connection with an alleged plot to attack hotels and restaurants in Kenya. Asked if the dead woman was Lewthwaite, the intelligence officer said: "We don't know."

US authorities are urgently looking into information given by the Kenyan government that residents of Western countries, including the United States, may have been among the attackers, US security sources said.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said he had no direct information that Americans had participated in the attack, but expressed US worries.

"We do monitor very carefully and have for some time been concerned about efforts by al Shabaab to recruit Americans or US persons to come to Somalia," Rhodes told reporters traveling with US President Obama to the United Nations in New York.


A Twitter account that claimed to be at the fingertips of the al-Qaida-linked al Shabaab terrorist entity has allegedly been documenting the Westgate mall siege with real time updates through the social media site.

Tweets from the account, which has now been blocked, described several of the jihadists as being of Western origins. One tweet even specifically named the "white widow," Samantha Lewthwaite, saying she is a "brave lady" and they are glad to have her in their ranks.

However, according to the Washington Post, the militant group said Monday — on a different Twitter handle verified by the SITE Monitoring Service, that it had not sent the earlier messages or released the names or any other details about the attackers.

Global Terrorism

From Mali to Algeria, Nigeria to Kenya, violent Islamist groups - tapping into local poverty, conflict, inequality or exclusion but espousing a similar anti-Western, anti-Christian creed - are striking at state authority and international interests, both economic and political.

John Campbell, a former US ambassador to Nigeria, said he believed insurgents such as those who rebelled in Mali last year, the Nigerian Boko Haram Islamist sect and the Nairobi mall raiders were also partly motivated by anger with what he called "pervasive malgovernance" in Africa.

"This is undoubtedly anti-Western and anti-Christian but it also taps into a lot of deep popular anger against the political economy in which they find themselves, in which a very small group of people are basically raking off the wealth," he said.

Reuters contributed to this report

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