67 Killed In Kenya Mall Terrorist Attack

By: Associated Press, CBS News Email
By: Associated Press, CBS News Email
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The militants who claimed responsibility for the attack sent out tweet after tweet, taunting the Kenyan military, defending the mass killings and threatening more bloodshed.

Kenya security personnel take cover outside the Westgate Mall after shooting started inside the mall early Monday morning, Sept. 23, 2013. Kenya's military launched a major operation at the upscale Nairobi mall and said it had rescued "most" of the hostages being held captive by al-Qaida-linked militants during the standoff that killed at least 68 people and injured 175. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)

Associated Press Release

PARIS (AP) -- As the deadly attack unfolded inside Kenya's Westgate mall, the militants who claimed responsibility for the spreading mayhem sent out tweet after tweet, taunting the Kenyan military, defending the mass killings and threatening more bloodshed.

Each time Twitter shut the account down -- a total of five times, according to a U.S.-based security analyst -- al-Shabab started a new feed. The sixth account included a post on Tuesday linking to a photo that purported to be two of the attackers "unruffled and strolling around the mall in such sangfroid manner" and mocking Kenya's security forces for their repeated assurances over two days -- also tweeted -- that the siege was nearly over.

It wasn't the first time al-Shabab has live-tweeted a terrorist attack, according to J.M. Berger, a U.S. based terrorism analyst who monitors the group's online presence. The militants offered comments in real time or nearly so in recent attacks in Mogadishu and the attempted assassination of the Somali president. But the drawn-out Kenya attack, which left at least dozens dead, brought the group to a much wider stage, amplified by its social media savvy.

"The person who runs their Twitter account has obviously invested a lot of energy in the process of grabbing headlines, and for Shabab, the account allows them to amplify the message that they wish to send with the attack itself," Berger told The Associated Press.

The al-Shabab message, at least according to the tweets, appeared directed at the international community and Kenya specifically to leave Somalia to the militant Islamic group. But there may have been a broader message, analysts say: Al-Shabab has allied itself with al-Qaida's global message and its global war.

Berger, who has called out al-Shabab before for violating Twitter's terms of service, did so again after the attack began on Saturday, announced by gunshots, grenades and the group's chosen hashtag, (hash)Westgate. The account was closed. A new feed opened, the handle sent to journalists on the al-Shabab email list, with crisp assurances tweeted back to users who requested their names be added.

But as the death toll rose -- and images were broadcast worldwide of the terror, which included a bloodied woman and terrified children, the group found itself roundly condemned -- the tweets became more defensive: "Mujahideen have no desire to kill women & children and have done everything practically possible to evacuate them before attacking (hash)Westgate."

The communications onslaught, which included back and forth tweets with Kenya's security forces, had police at one point appealing to "all Kenyans to ignore the propaganda of those intent on dividing us and breaking us down."

Interestingly, the group's message in the Somali language social media was slightly different -- and tailored to a more domestic audience than the largely English-language Twitter feeds, said Cedric Barnes, a Nairobi-based analyst for Crisis Group.

"Part of the reason might be to align itself more with the international struggle rather than the Somali-centric war," Barnes said. The attack and propaganda efforts show "how sophisticated Shabab is but also some of the networks that assisted in this. It's incredibly cynical but quite deliberate."

Twitter has not explained why it shut down the accounts, but it prohibits "direct, specific threats of violence against others." The Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist websites, said al-Shabab had been closed down five times, with the sixth account opening Tuesday -- a tally that roughly coincided with AP's count of recent shutdowns of their account.

But if al-Shabab was having a hard time staying ahead of email and Twitter administrators, Kenya's government was having at least as hard a time with its own message.

"They've really been a model for poor crisis communication. Shabab was further able to sap their credibility by undermining their claims," said Daveed Gartenstein Ross, an al-Shabab expert with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Gartenstein Ross drew parallels with the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, India, which lasted three days and -- nearly as long as the one in Kenya -- unfolded before the eyes of millions of television viewers. In that case, 10 gunmen laid siege to India's financial hub, leaving 166 people dead and a host of questions about their motives and identities.

A more recent parallel is the dayslong hostage taking at an Algerian gas plant in January, when Islamic militants linked to al-Qaida broadcast real-time accounts of what was happening inside via a Mauritanian news service known for ties to the group. In that case -- as in Kenya -- the militants' account ended up being more open than the Algerian government's reassurances and downplaying of the death toll, which climbed to more than three dozen hostages in the four-day standoff.

Al-Shabab is a different, more aggressively public organization, analysts say. Its militants eagerly claimed responsibility in Kenya as they have for multiple attacks in Somalia, their base. The fear that spread across Nairobi -- as well as al-Shabab's decision to go public immediately -- was calculated by a group whose name means "The Youth" in Arabic.

Al-Shabab said the mall attack was in retribution for Kenyan forces' 2011 push into neighboring Somalia. African Union forces pushed the al-Qaida-affiliated group out of Somalia's capital in 2011.

"As an operation itself, it caused chaos, it's made the Kenyans look bad, it's inflicted a cost upon the civilian population. They got their message out to the world for several days," Gartenstein Ross said.

He said it would be appropriate if Twitter continued to shut down al-Shabab, an opinion not shared by everyone in the intelligence community, which values many public communications as insight into terror groups. But he said it came with costs.

After the first few times the account was shut down, a series of fake Twitter feeds sprang up, all purporting to be speaking for al-Shabab and carrying false information about the attack. That added to confusion in the first two days of the siege, but Gartenstein Ross said neither al-Shabab nor Twitter was to blame, emphasizing that people need to become more discriminating about their social media sources.

"It's not like there's a natural right to having a Twitter feed again. When you become a mass murderer, you forsake some rights. Perhaps having a Twitter feed is one of those," he said.

Berger, whose own efforts to thwart al-Qaida online and keep terror groups from posting threats have gotten some attention in the recent past, said there are good reasons to take them down this time around.

"By knocking them down over and over again, Twitter kept them from collecting many thousands of followers that it would have kept for the long haul. It is likely impossible and possibly undesirable to permanently deny them the use of services like Twitter," he wrote in an email exchange with The Associated Press. "But there are good reasons to weed a garden, even if we can never fully eradicate weeds."

Associated Press Release

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Kenya's security forces aren't showing any signs of closing down their operation at a shopping mall in Nairobi that was taken over by terrorists on Saturday.

Kenya's president, in a televised address to the nation, said today that the terrorists had been defeated, after killing at least 67 civilians and government troops.

But two Kenyan soldiers who had been inside the mall said shortly before the president spoke that while the operation was effectively finished, security forces were still combing the facility and had not definitively cleared all of the rooms inside.

In his televised address, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the victims included 61 civilians whose bodies had been recovered so far, and six security forces. He says several bodies are trapped in the rubble after three floors of the mall collapsed. His office later said a terrorist's body was among those in the debris.

Kenyatta said five other militants were killed by gunfire, and that 11 other suspects have been arrested.

Explosions and gunfire were heard from the mall today, and fresh smoke rose from the building in the afternoon.

Associated Press Release

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Kenya's foreign minister says "two or three Americans" and "one Brit" were among those who attacked a Nairobi shopping mall. More than 60 people have been killed in the assault on the upscale mall, which has lasted for three days. 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 US.

U.S. officials said they were looking into whether any Americans were involved. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday the department had "no definitive evidence of the nationalities or the identities" of the attackers.

Authorities in Kenya are trying to wrap up their standoff with al-Shabab, a group allied with al-Qaida.

CBS News Web Copy

Updated at 7:37 p.m. ET

NAIROBI, Kenya Kenya's Interior Ministry said early Tuesday it was "in control" of a shopping center besieged by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists two days after the upscale mall was seized by members of a Somali terrorist group that invaded with guns blazing, killing at least 62 people.

The ministry made the announcement via its Twitter feed, adding that security forces were still combing the mall floor by floor looking for people but that it believed "all hostages have been released."

Earlier Monday, four thunderous explosions reverberated through the Nairobi neighborhood of the Westgate Mall attacked by al-Shabab, a Somali armed Islamic group linked with al-Qaeda.

Three attackers had been killed in the fighting Monday, officials said, and more than 10 suspects arrested. Eleven Kenyan soldiers were wounded in the running gun battles. By evening, Kenyan security officials were claiming the upper hand.

Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku also revised the death toll to 62. Kenyan officials earlier said 59 people have died since the siege on Westgate Mall began on Saturday, while the Red Cross had put the toll at 68, then in a tweet lowered it to 62, saying some bodies had been counted twice.

Following hours of sporadic clashes, a CBS News team positioned near the mall Monday reported a heavy exchange of gunfire, several loud explosions and then thick black smoke emerging from within the complex. Lenku, the interior minister, said at his news conference that the smoke was due to the militants burning mattresses inside the mall.

Kenya Chief of Defense forces Gen. Julius Karangi said fighters from an array of nations participated in the attack claimed by al-Shabab.

"We have an idea who these people are and they are clearly a multinational collection from all over the world," he said.

Karangi said Kenyan forces were in charge of all floors inside the mall, though terrorists could still be hiding inside. Earlier witness reports had indicated that a woman was among the estimated 10 to 15 attackers. Lenku said that instead some male attackers had dressed up like women.

The four explosions were followed by volleys of gunfire, then a thick, dark column of smoke that burned for roughly 90 minutes. Military and police helicopters and one plane circled over the Nairobi mall, giving the upscale neighborhood the feel of a war zone.

On Sunday Kenyan officials announced that "most" hostages had been rescued. But no numbers were given. Kenyan officials have never said how many hostages they thought the attackers had, but have said preserving the hostages' lives is a top priority.

Kenyans and foreigners were among those confirmed dead, including British, French, Canadians, Indians, a Ghanaian, a South African and a Chinese woman. The U.K. Foreign Office said Monday it has confirmed the deaths of four British nationals. At least five Americans were confirmed to have been injured in the attack.

From neighboring Somalia, spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage for al-Shabab - the militant group that claimed responsibility for the attack - said in an audio file posted on a website that the hostage takers had been ordered to "take punitive action against the hostages" if force was used to try to rescue them.

"Israelis and Kenyan forces have tried to enter Westgate (mall) by force but they could not, the mujahideen (fighters) will kill the hostages if the enemies use force," a man identifying himself as Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said in the clip, according to the Reuters news agency. CBS News could not independently verify the authenticity of the audio statement, but it was posted on a website often used by the Somali terror group.

Israeli officials confirmed it has sent advisers to assist in the operation. While officials refuse to discuss the precise nature of the assistance, Israeli leaders have made it clear they believe the defeat of the al Qaeda militants behind the mall attack will have great meaning around the world.

"Israel is always ready to help other countries, other friendly countries, in combating terrorism. I think that terrorism has become a threat to the entire world and therefore countries - United States, Israel and other Western countries - should cooperate," Yuval Steinitz, Israel's cabinet minister for strategic affairs, told The Associated Press.

D'Agata arrived Monday morning to Nairobi and said the city was tense. Even staff at the hotel in the capital city were taking additional precautions, searching bags and scrutinizing visitors more carefully than normal. Security forces had established a roughly 200 yard perimeter around the Westgate mall. Helicopters hovered overhead.

At the Oshwal Centre next to the mall, the Red Cross was using a squat concrete structure that houses a Hindu temple as a triage center. Medical workers attended to at least two wounded Kenyan soldiers there on Monday.

As the crisis surpassed the 48-hour mark, video taken by someone inside the mall's main department store when the assault began emerged. The video showed frightened and unsure shoppers crouching as long and loud volleys of gunfire could be heard.

Al-Shabab extremists stormed the mall on Saturday from two sides, throwing grenades and firing on civilians.

Kenya's Red Cross said in a statement, citing police, that 49 people had been reported missing.

Al-Shabab said the attack, targeting non-Muslims, was in retribution for Kenyan forces' 2011 push into neighboring Somalia.

Al-Shabab is an extremist Islamic terrorist force that 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.

Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said in a speech at Ohio State University on Monday that al-Shabab is a global threat.

"Today, there are clear evidences that Shabab is not a threat to Somalia and Somali people only," Mohamud said in a speech at Ohio State University. "They are a threat to the continent of Africa, and the world at large."

Al-Shabab is estimated to have several thousand fighters, including a few hundred foreign fighters. Some of the insurgents' foreign fighters are from the Middle East with experience in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Others are young, raw recruits from Somali communities in the United States and Europe.

While known to have links to al Qaeda, al-Shabab has for years been focused on carrying out attacks primarily inside Somalia. There have been suggestions of divisions among the organization's leadership causing tension, and it has not typically been considered the greatest threat to U.S. interests -- certainly not in comparison to the Yemen-based al Qaeda franchise al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Last week, however, new information surfaced in the form of a document filed in a court case in New York's Eastern District, alleging that al-Shabab is or was operating a "research and development department" aimed at producing chemical weapons.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose nephew and fiancee were killed in the mall attack, reiterated his government's determination to continue fighting al-Shabab.

"We went as a nation into Somalia to help stabilize the country and most importantly to fight terror that had been unleashed on Kenya and the world," said Kenyatta."We shall not relent on the war on terror."

President Obama said the United States stands with Kenya against the "terrible outrage" of a shopping mall terrorist attack.

Mr. Obama says the United States is providing assistance and all the help it can to deal with the tragedy.

"We will provide them with whatever law enforcement support that is necessary, and we are confident that Kenya, which has been a pillar of stability in eastern Africa will rebuild," Mr. Obama said.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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