Nairobi's 4-day terror nightmare: Arrested Briton 'not of significant interest' to probe

Kenyan police search mall wreckage after militant attack

A Briton arrested in Nairobi following the bloody attack on a shopping mall by armed Islamists is "not of significant interest" to the investigation, the British High Commissioner said Wednesday.

Christian Turner, Britain's top diplomat in Kenya, made the comments in Nairobi and they were confirmed to AFP by a Foreign Office spokeswoman in London.

The Foreign Office earlier confirmed the arrest but declined to say whether it was linked to the bloody siege on the Westgate mall, in which 67 people were killed.

"We can confirm the detention of a British national in Nairobi and we are making contact to offer standard consular assistance," a spokeswoman told AFP.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said Monday that a British woman was among the attackers, although this contradicted earlier statements from Kenyan officials who said they were all male.

The Foreign Office spokeswoman in London said: "We are aware of these reports that a British national was among the terrorists and we're looking into them, but we are not going to speculate on that."

The Daily Mail newspaper reported Wednesday that a 35-year-old British man was detained at passport control as he prepared to fly out of Nairobi on Monday afternoon.

He had apparently attracted attention because of bruising to his face, his dark glasses and suspicious behaviour.

EARLIER REPORT:

Bomb disposal experts and investigators searched through the wreckage of a Kenyan shopping mall on Wednesday after a four-day attack by Islamist militants that killed at least 72 people.

President Uhuru Kenyatta declared three days of mourning after troops defeated the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab group that targeted the upscale shopping centre popular with prosperous Kenyans and foreigners.

The militants stormed the mall, known for its Western shops selling iPads and Nike shoes, in a hail of gunfire and grenades on Saturday lunchtime. The attack ended on Tuesday when Kenyan troops set off a series of explosions inside the building.

Kenyatta said five militants and six security personnel were killed and 61 civilians had so far been confirmed dead but an unknown number of corpses are buried under the masonry.

Three floors collapsed after the blasts and a separate fire weakened the structure of the vaulted, marble-tiled building. Officials said the blaze was due to militants lighting mattresses as a decoy.

"Forensic investigators are on the site now," said a senior official from the National Disaster Operations Centre, speaking near the mall and adding that foreign agents were on the scene. He did not identify the agents.

Al Shabaab, which said it launched the assault to demand Kenya withdraw its troops fighting with African peacekeepers in Somalia, said hostages were killed when Kenyan troops used gas to clear to the mall. Officials dismissed this as "propaganda".

Kenyatta has said Kenyan forces would not quit Somalia. "We have ashamed and defeated our attackers," he said in a televised address on Tuesday.

Israel has sent advisers to help the search, according to an Israeli source. The United States also has Federal Bureau of Investigation personnel on the ground. Others countries including Britain have offered help. Several foreigners have been listed among the dead.

The attack has highlighted the reach of the Somali group and the capabilities of its crack unit believed to be behind the attack, confirming Western and regional fears that as long as Somalia remains in turmoil it will be a recruiting and training ground for militant Islam.

IDENTIFICATION

"The bodies are still lying there in the rubble. We don't know how many exactly," said the NDOC official.

"The investigators will be looking to see what information they can extract to identify the terrorists and their nationalities, including DNA tests," he said, after Kenyan officials said the attack was a "multinational" operation.

Eleven people suspected of involvement with the well-planned assault were in custody but he did not say how many, if any, were gunmen taken alive and how many may have been people arrested elsewhere.

A British citizen of Somali origin was detained at Nairobi airport, a Kenyan security source said. A British newspaper said he was a 35-year-old, trying to leave on Turkish Airlines.

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 some role.

Smoke still rose into the damp air on Wednesday morning above the Israeli-built mall that had been 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.

U.S. President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, said he believed the country - scene of one of Al Qaeda's first big attacks, in 1998, when a bomb devastated the U.S. embassy in Nairobi - would continue to be a regional pillar of stability.

Al Shabaab, which taunted Kenya when militants were battling 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)."

"After 4 days of exposing the vulnerability of their nation, the Kenyan govt ended the siege in a morally reprehensible manner #Westgate," the group said on its Twitter account @HSM_PR

MILITANTS

Kenyatta said he could not confirm intelligence reports of British and American militants. One minister denied speculation that women were among the guerrillas, but said some had been dressed as women, a possible ploy to get weapons past the unarmed private security guards who normally checked entrances.

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, 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 source said.

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.

"Kenya has stared down evil and triumphed," he said.

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 and 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.

Al Shabaab had threatened revenge since Kenyan troops joined the war against Islamists in its northern neighbour two years ago. The group created funding, recruiting and training networks in Kenya.

EARLIER REPORT:

A British national has been arrested in Nairobi following the mall siege that killed at least 67 people, the Foreign Office in London said on Wednesday.

According to the Daily Mail newspaper, a 35-year-old Briton of Somali origin was arrested at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta airport as he attempted to leave Kenya on a Turkish Airlines flight.

A Foreign Office spokesman declined to comment on the report, saying only that the British authorities were aware of the arrest of a Briton in the Kenyan capital and stood ready to provide consular assistance.

A Kenyan anti-terrorism police unit source also told Reuters that a British citizen of Somali origin was detained after he missed his flight at the Nairobi airport, and was now being questioned. He gave no more details.

The Daily Mail said the man had attracted attention at the airport because he had bruising to his face, was wearing dark glasses and was behaving suspiciously.

The newspaper quoted Kenyan officials as saying the man's British passport appeared to be genuine and it contained a Kenyan visa, although there was no stamp indicating when and how he had entered the country.

The newspaper also said the man said under questioning that his facial injuries happened during a recent visit to Somalia.

Kenya was beginning three days of national mourning on Wednesday for the victims of the siege at the Westgate mall.     (Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Mike Collett-White)

 President Uhuru Kenyatta announced Tuesday that a four-day siege by gunmen of a Nairobi shopping mall was over, with the "immense" loss of 61 civilians and six members of the security forces.

 

"We have ashamed and defeated our attackers, that part of our task is completed," a sombre Kenyatta, who himself lost family members in the assault, said in a televised address to the nation.

The president said "three floors of the mall collapsed, trapping several bodies within the rubble including those of terrorists."
Police said the current death toll was provisional, while the Kenyan Red Cross said 63 people were still listed as missing.

"Our losses are immense," the president said, announcing three days of national mourning.
"We have been badly hurt, but we have been brave, united and strong. Kenya has stared down evil and triumphed. We have defeated our enemies and showed the whole world what we can accomplish," he said.

Five attackers had been killed and 11 suspects were in custody. Somalia's Al Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels said the group carried out the attack in retaliation for Kenya's two-year battle against the extremists' bases in the country.

"It's an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," the group said on Twitter late on Tuesday night.

In one of the worst attacks in Kenya's history, the militants marched into the four-storey, part Israeli-owned Westgate Mall at midday Saturday, spraying shoppers with automatic weapons fire and tossing grenades.

Kenyatta said that "forensic investigations are under way to establish the nationalities of all those involved" amid reports Americans and a British woman were among the insurgents.

There has been growing media speculation at the possible role of wanted British extremist Samantha Lewthwaite, daughter of a British soldier and widow of suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay, who blew himself up on a London Underground train on July 7, 2005, killing 26 people.

The president said intelligence reports had suggested that a British woman and two or three American citizens "may have been involved in the attack", but that could not yet be confirmed.

Lewthwaite is wanted in Kenya, and is accused of links to the Shebab -- although the rebels later "categorically" denied the involvement of any woman in the attack, insisting they had "an adequate number of young men who are fully committed".

Shebab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage also threatened further "black days" if Kenya did not bring troops home, warning the siege was just "a taste of what we will do".

Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon vowed that his government would "finish" the Shebab militants and insisted that it would not bow to the rebels' demands for the withdrawal of Kenyan troops.

For his part, Kenyatta vowed "full accountability for the mindless destruction, deaths, pain, loss and suffering we have all undergone."
"These cowards will meet justice, as will their accomplices and patrons, wherever they are."

Close to 200 were wounded in the four-day carnage, which saw running battles between militants and security forces in the complex, Nairobi's largest shopping centre and popular with wealthy Kenyans, diplomats, UN workers and other expatriates.

The siege developed into a hostage drama with Shebab claiming civilians were being held, and Kenyan special forces describing the stand-off as delicate -- with gunman running and hiding in supermarket aisles, store rooms, a cinema and casino and placing booby traps.

Officials and intelligence sources said they were backed by Israeli, US and British agents.

Non-Muslims selected for executionShocked witnesses said the attackers weeded out non-Muslims for execution by demanding they recite the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith.

"When I mentioned the first word of the Shahada (creed), they moved on. That is how I survived," one survivor said. Another saw people being questioned, then executed.

Children, some of whom were taking part in a cooking competition hosted by popular radio personalities, were also gunned down. Competition host Ruhila Adatia-Sood, a TV and radio personality who was six months pregnant, was shot dead.

"The kids were just running around in their little aprons, chopping up. We heard a series of gunshots," said Aleem Manji, whose radio station East FM was hosting the party. "We said get down, get down, get down on the floor. And just as we did that, the gunmen tossed a grenade to where we were."

As well as scores of Kenyans -- from ordinary workers to the president's nephew -- many of the dead were foreigners, including six Britons, two Canadians, a Chinese woman, a Dutch woman, two French women, two Indians, a South African and a South Korean.

Some of the survivors recounted how they hid under cars in the parking area, while others played dead or barricaded themselves inside shops. Security camera footage showed gunmen subjecting toilet doors to a barrage of gunfire, apparently after learning that large numbers of people were holed up inside.

Blood donour appeals ended after banks filled with donations from hundreds, while over $650,000 (490,000 euros) has been raised to support the families affected.

The siege, which has revived memories of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, is the worst attack in Nairobi since an Al-Qaeda bombing at the US embassy killed more than 200 people in 1998.

US President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, has called Kenyatta offering "whatever law enforcement support that is necessary".
Intelligence sources from two foreign countries who could not be named said there had been no leaks or "chatter" ahead of the attack, despite close monitoring of the Shebab's operations. The Westgate mall, however, has long been considered a potential "soft" target for extremists.

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