Kenyans Search for Answers After Hostage Siege Ends
The standoff in Kenya is finally over after four tense, emotional days. The country entered a three day mourning period Wednesday for civilians lost in the attack, but there are still plenty of questions that remain unanswered.
The hostage standoff in Kenya is finally over after four tense, emotional days. The country entered a three-day mourning period Wednesday for civilians lost in the attack, but there are still plenty of questions that remain unanswered.
"The next phase really is making sure we know what’s under the rubble," government spokesman Manoah Esipisu told reporters Wednesday. By the time the conflict ended, three floors inside Nairobi's Westgate mall collapsed, killing some of the terrorists and possibly some hostages.According to Kenyan officials, 67 people had died, including six security officers and five militants, with those numbers expected to rise as forensic experts examine the rubble inside the mall. The terrorist group responsible, al-Shabab, claims the Kenyan military intentionally blew up part of building, buying 137 hostages in the wreckage, but Kenyan officials insist that isn't true. Kenyan authorities are combing through what evidence was left behind with help from Israeli experts and the FBI.
There was some confusion surrounding who was responsible for the attack, but Kenyan officials have since seemingly cleared that up. Al-Shabab, a terrorist group based out of Somalia engaged in a conflict against the Kenyan government, initially claimed responsibility for the attack, but Tuesday a Kenyan official said they believed Al-Qaeda was behind it. The distinction seemed like a debate over semantics and not based on intelligence: al-Shabab pledged its efforts to al-Qaeda in 2012. "Terror mutates in many forms," Esipisu said Wednesday. "Terror has many names. The Al Shabab considers itself the local arm of Al Qaeda."
Regardless of what group officially carried out the attack, whoever was responsible came prepared. American intelligence officials told The New York Times they believe the militants studied the layout of the Westgate Mall for weeks prior to the attack, and possibly stashed weapons in one store a few days before they invaded. Surveillance cameras show militants using belt fed machine guns to combat Kenyan forces. "You don't bring something like a crew-served weapon through the door," an American official told the Times. "Those must have been stored well beforehand."
Investigators are also working to determine the nationality of the attackers, though details are scarce right now. We know at least one British citizen is among the eleven arrested so far in connection with the attack. The Daily Mail reported a British citizen of Somali descent was arrested trying to board a plane out of Nairobi on Monday, three days after the attack began, with visible bruises, while wearing sunglass and acting suspiciously. (The British Foreign Office confirmed the arrest on Wednesday.) A Kenyan official said two or three Americans participated in the attack, but provided no further details and that claim still hasn't been confirmed. There are also still many reports suggesting a British woman named Samantha Lewthwaite, known as "the White Widow" because her husband died in the July 2005 London bombings, was among the militants who attacked the Westgate Mall. A woman is reportedly among the dead terrorists, but her identity has not been determined.