Kenyan security forces regained control over most of the Westgate mall in Nairobi overnight, rescuing an unknown number of hostages as smoke arose from one end of the complex. Officials estimate that 10 more hostages still remain, and government forces have cornered the terrorists into one level:
Terrorists from the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab group were believed to have about 10 remaining hostages on one level of the mall, security officials said. Other mall levels had been cleared Monday.
“All efforts are underway to bring this matter to a speedy conclusion,” the Kenyan military said on Twitter about 11:30 p.m. Sunday, Nairobi time (4:30 p.m. ET). Another tweet said that “most of the hostages have been rescued and security forces have taken control of most parts of the building.”
An unspecified number of hostages then were freed overnight, the head of the Kenyan police force said.
Inspector General David Kimaiyo tweeted at noon Monday local time: “We have managed to rescue more hostages overnight and very few are remaining. We are also closing in on the attackers.”
Yesterday, I noted that al-Shabaab had recruited a number of young men from the Somali refugee community in the Twin Cities. Later in the day, a Twitter account claiming to speak for the terrorists claimed that the group included two men from Minnesota and another from Missouri, highlighting a years-long investigation into terror recruitment and risk:
It’s a concern all too familiar for many Somali-American families in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where young men have been slipping away to join the al Qaeda-affiliated guerrilla group Al-Shabaab for the past few years, sometimes in groups. Several have died, their relatives learning of their deaths in cryptic phone calls or in messages posted online. …
In a message on its now-suspended Twitter page, Al-Shabaab named nine people it said were among the gunmen who stormed Nairobi’s Westgate Mall on Saturday. Three of them were from the United States and one each was from Canada, Finland and the United Kingdom, it said.
“It isn’t totally surprising, given the fact that we know Shabaab has recruited in the United States,” CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen said Sunday. “We also know they have recruited in a number of European countries.”
Bergen noted that the group’s Twitter page includes tweets in colloquial English, “the kind of English that an American, or perhaps somebody who grew up in the UK, would be using.”
The US government is close to confirming this, CNN reports:
A senior State Department official told CNN that U.S. officials are trying to confirm whether the names released by Al-Shabaab are Americans, but said they are becoming more confident American citizens were involved in the Kenyan attack. The official said the administration has been concerned and raising alarm bells about Al-Shabaab recruitment in the Somali-American community for years and would be making decisions in coming days about additional efforts to stem the flow of recruits.
The risk is that Shabaab will send them back for a terror operation, and a similar target to Westgate exists right here in the Twin Cities — the Mall of America, which is the largest shopping mall in the US and which attracts considerable international business. After this replay of Mumbai, American retail centers across the country should be rethinking security plans forthwith.