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Kenyan Govt: Army in Control of Besieged Mall, All Hostages Free

  • VOA News

A armored military vehicle drives from the Westgate shopping center after an exchange of gunfire. Sept. 23, 2013.

A armored military vehicle drives from the Westgate shopping center after an exchange of gunfire. Sept. 23, 2013.

Kenyan officials say the army has taken control of a besieged Nairobi shopping mall from Islamist terrorists, and that all hostages have been freed.

The Interior Ministry said late Monday soldiers were going through the huge Westgate shopping center floor-by-floor in search of anyone still inside.

Authorities say three gunmen were killed in clashes with Kenyan security forces, and that at least 10 suspects have been arrested.

Militants from the Somali militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for taking over the mall during a busy shopping day Saturday. They killed at least 62 people during the multi-day siege. The Red Cross put the death toll at 69.

Kenyan officials say they believe the gunmen include fighters from several nations. Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told the PBS Newshour that two or three Americans of Somali or Arab origin and a British national took part in the attack.

White House spokesman Ben Rhodes said the U.S. has long been concerned about al-Shabab recruiting Americans to Somalia, and that the government is examining reports they were involved in the mall siege.

Speculation rose about the identity of the attackers. Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said they were all men but that some had dressed as women.

Despite his comments, one intelligence officer and two soldiers told Reuters that one of the dead militants was a white woman. This is likely to fuel speculation that she is the wanted widow of one of the suicide bombers who together killed more than 50 people on London's transport system in 2005.

Called the “white widow” by the British press, Samantha Lewthwaite is wanted in connection with an alleged plot to attack hotels and restaurants in Kenya. Asked if the dead woman was Lewthwaite, the intelligence officer said: “We don't know.”

Al-Shabab says the attack was in retaliation for Kenya's military intervention in Somalia. It demands all Kenyan forces leave Somalia -- a demand the Kenyan government rejects.

Kenyan forces entered neighboring Somalia two years ago to help rout al-Shabab, which has been fighting to turn Somalia into a conservative Islamic state. Al-Shabab militants often crossed the border to stage attacks in Kenya.

From Mali to Algeria, Nigeria to Kenya, violent Islamist groups - tapping into local poverty, conflict, inequality or exclusion but espousing a similar anti-Western, anti-Christian creed - are striking at state authority and international interests, both economic and political.

John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, said he believed insurgents such as those who rebelled in Mali last year, the Nigerian Boko Haram Islamist sect and the Nairobi mall raiders were also partly motivated by anger with what he called “pervasive malgovernance” in Africa.

“This is undoubtedly anti-Western and anti-Christian but it also taps into a lot of deep popular anger against the political economy in which they find themselves, in which a very small group of people are basically raking off the wealth,” he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama said he has spoken directly with Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, and will provide whatever law enforcement assistance Kenya needs.

Obama said he is confident Kenya will rebuild, and called the country one of Africa's most stable democracies.

Among those killed Saturday were nationals from Britain, Canada, China, France, India and South Korea.

President Kenyatta vows to stand firm against terrorism and punish those behind the attack "swiftly" and "very painfully." The president said his nephew and the young man's fiancee were among those killed.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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