x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Kenya begins three days of mourning for Al Shabab mall victims

Officials say death toll unlikely to rise much higher as investigation begins into storming and four-day siege by militants of Westgate mall that left 72 dead, including five attackers.

Eight-year-old Alyaz Merali, who received two gunshot wounds during the attack on the Westgate mall, takes part in the funeral on Wednesday of his mother and 15-year-old sister, who were both killed in the attack. Uriel Sinai / Getty Images
Eight-year-old Alyaz Merali, who received two gunshot wounds during the attack on the Westgate mall, takes part in the funeral on Wednesday of his mother and 15-year-old sister, who were both killed in the attack. Uriel Sinai / Getty Images

NAIROBI // Kenya began investigating an attack by Islamist militants on a Nairobi shopping mall on Wednesday as the nation began three days of mourning for the 67 people killed.

“We have moved to the next phase,” the interior minister Joseph Ole Lenku said.

He said that alongside US, British and Israeli agencies, Kenya was also receiving help from Germany, Canada and the police agency Interpol in the investigation.

He said he did not expect the death toll of 61 civilians, six members of the security forces and five attackers to rise significantly, and that the only bodies still likely to be found were those of slain assailants.

Militants stormed the Westgate mall in a hail of gunfire and grenades at lunchtime on Saturday. The attack, which was claimed by the Somali Islamist militant group Al Shabab, ended on Tuesday when Kenyan troops detonated explosives to get through locked doors inside the mall as they searched for militants or booby traps.

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

Mr Ole Lenku also said the investigation would seek to ascertain if there were any females among the assailants, as some witness accounts suggest, and would also see if the groups had rented a store in the mall prior the attack as part of their preparation.

“The investigators will be looking to see what information they can extract to identify the terrorists and their nationalities, including DNA tests,” a senior official from the National Disaster Operation Centre told Reuters, after officials described the attack as a “multinational” operation.

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

It was unclear whether intelligence reports of American or British gunmen would be confirmed. Al Shabab 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.

South African media reported on Wednesday that the woman, Samantha Lewthwaite, assumed South African identity to take out bank loans and rent property in Johannesburg.

Ms Lewthwaite, who is wanted by Kenyan police for alleged involvement in a separate terror plot, used the alias Natalie Faye Webb to rent at least three properties and run up debts of US$8,600 (Dh31,590), according to the eNews Channel Africa (eNCA).

The 29-year-old Muslim convert – nicknamed the “White Widow” – signed rental leases around Johannesburg, but it was unclear whether she lived at any of the premises.

According to credit records released by eNCA, she was listed as living in the city’s predominantly South Asian neighbourhood of Mayfair for four years.

Kenya’s foreign minister has said a British woman was among the mall’s attackers. President Uhuru Kenyatta later said the reports could not be confirmed.

But Kenyan authorities issued a wanted notice for Ms Lewthwaite after she entered the country from Tanzania’s north-eastern Lunga and Namanga border posts in February and August 2011 using a South African passport under the name of Natalie Faye Webb.

* Reuters, with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse