‘White Widow’ an elusive ghost

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Kenya’s president proclaimed victory today over the terrorists who stormed a Nairobi mall, saying security forces had “ashamed and defeated our attackers” following a bloody four-day siege in which dozens of civilians were killed.

President Uhuru Kenyatta said the dead included 61 civilians whose bodies have been recovered so far and six security forces, while some 175 were injured, including 62 who remain hospitalised.

Three floors of the mall collapsed and several bodies were trapped in the rubble, said Kenyatta. His office later said a terrorist’s body was among those in the debris.

Five other extremists were killed by gunfire, he said in the televised address to the nation. He said 11 other suspects had been arrested; authorities had previously announced the arrest of seven at the airport and three elsewhere.

“These cowards will meet justice as well their accomplices and patrons, wherever they are,” Kenyatta said.

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Media reports have speculated one of the attackers was wanted British extremist Samantha Lewthwaite, a Muslim convert known as the “White Widow”.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, declaring an end to the siege, said he could not confirm the reports.

“Intelligence reports had suggested that a British woman and two or three American citizens may have been involved in the attack,” Kenyatta said.

“We cannot confirm the details at present but forensic experts are working to ascertain the nationalities of the terrorists.”

Lewthwaite is the 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.

Lewthwaite is wanted in Kenya, and is accused of links to Somalia’s Shebab insurgents.

South Africa says it is probing whether Lewthwaite  travelled to Kenya with a South African passport – believed to be forged – under the name Natalie Faye Webb.

South African officials were trying to find out if the passport had been found “on the body of the person” killed in the Nairobi siege, said Mamoepa.

Earlier, Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed was asked by US public broadcaster PBS about reports Americans and Britons were among those to blame for the carnage.

“Yes,” Mohamed said. “From the information that we have, two or three Americans, and I think so far I have heard of one Brit.”

The Briton was a woman, Mohamed said.

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“Woman. Woman. And she has, I think, done this many times before,” she told PBS.

“The Americans, from the information we have, are young men, about between maybe 18 and 19,” she said, adding they were of Somali or Arab origin but “lived in the US, in Minnesota and one other place”.

“So, basically, look, that just was to underline, I think, the global nature of this war that we’re fighting,” Mohamed said.

Lewthwaite, is known to be in East Africa and is wanted by Kenyan police over alleged links to a terrorist cell that planned to bomb the country’s coast.

In March last year officials said she had fled to Somalia and that officers were hunting a woman who used several identities, including hers.

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At the Westgate mall, there were no immediate signs of the Kenyan Security forces closing their operation.

Two Kenyan soldiers who had recently been inside the mall told Shortly before the president spoke that the operation was effectively finished, but they said security forces were still combing the facility and had not definitively cleared all the rooms inside. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were under orders not to speak to the media.

Kenyan forces had for two days said they were in the “final phase” of the operation, only to be battled back by the militants inside the building.

Explosions rang from the upscale Westgate mall in Nairobi throughout yesterday, and the chatter of gunfire from inside the building could also be heard. Fresh smoke rose from the building in the afternoon.

The Kenyan Red Cross had previously said 62 people had been killed, and it seemed certain that the number of confirmed deaths would rise as security forces search the building.

Kenyatta declared three days of national mourning starting today.

Nairobi’s city morgue had already braced for the arrival of a large number of bodies of people killed, an official said.

Kenyan Red Cross spokesman Abbas Gullet said it was still not known how many more may be dead inside the building.

“It is certainly known that there are more casualties,” he said.

A government official told media that the morgue was preparing for up to an additional 60 bodies, though the official didn’t know an exact count. The government official insisted on anonymity so he would not face retribution from government officials.

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Earlier yesterday the al-Qaida-linked attackers used social media to give accounts of the fighting inside the mall that conflicted with the government reports.

“There are countless number of dead bodies still scattered inside the mall, and the mujahideen are still holding their ground,” the Somali rebel group al-Shabab said in one Twitter message considered to be genuine.

It added it still held hostages, who were “still alive looking quite disconcerted but, nevertheless, alive.”

Kenyatta did not mention the fate of the hostages – if it was indeed true that there were still some being held – in his address.

Al-Shabab, whose name means “The Youth” in Arabic, said the mall attack was in retribution for Kenyan forces’ 2011 push into neighbouring Somalia. African Union forces pushed the al-Qaida-affiliated group out of Somalia’s capital in 2011.

“You could have avoided all this and lived your lives with relative safety,” the group Tweeted yesterday. “Remove your forces from our country and peace will come.”

Kenyatta said “initial reports had suggested that a British woman and two or three American citizens may have been involved in the attack,” but that “we cannot confirm the details at the moment.

He said experts were working to try and determine the nationalities of the terrorists.

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Earlier, Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed had said “two or three Americans” and “one Brit” were among those who attacked the mall.

A security expert with contacts inside the mall described the attackers as “a multinational collection from all over the world.”

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

Britain’s foreign office said it was aware of the Kenyan foreign minister’s remarks, but would not confirm if a British woman was involved.

Al-Shabab, responding to a request from AP, denied that any women had attacked the mall, saying “these are just baseless rumors.”

“We have an adequate number of young men who fully committed and ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of Allah and for the sake of their religion,” said the al-Shabab press office in what is thought to be an authentic email address.

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The attack began on Saturday when an estimated 12 to 15 al-Shabab militants invaded the mall, wielding grenades and firing on civilians inside the complex, which includes shops for Nike, Adidas and Bose and is popular with foreigners and wealthy Kenyans.

The militants specifically targeted non-Muslims, and at least 18 foreigners were among the dead, including six Britons, as well as citizens from France, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Peru, India, Ghana, South Africa and China. Nearly 200 people were wounded, including five Americans.

A US Embassy vehicle, identifiable by its numbered diplomatic license plate, arrived at the morgue yesterday. American officials have not confirmed the deaths of any US citizens in the mall attack, but it appeared possible the Americans who visited the morgue – likely security officials with an agency like the FBI – could have been seeking information about one of the bodies inside.

The attack at the Westgate mall in Nairobi’s Westlands neighbourhood was the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 al-Qaida truck bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi, which killed more than 200 people

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