One terrorist in attack on Kenya mall may be from Illinois
BY NATASHA KORECKI Staff Reporter September 23, 2013 10:30PM
Heavy smoke rises from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi Kenya Monday Sept. 23 2013. Multiple large blasts have rocked the mall where a hostage siege is in its third day. | AP Photo
Updated: September 23, 2013 11:53PM
Authorities think one of the al-Qaida-linked terrorists involved in the weekend attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya, is from Illinois, a source told the Chicago Sun-Times.
The mall attack was launched Saturday by al-Shabab, an extremist Islamic terrorist force that started in Somalia after warlords ousted a longtime dictator in 1991. Al-Shabab said the mall attack was in retaliation for Kenya’s leading role in sending troops to Somalia in 2011.
Al-Shabab militants have successfully recruited from the Great Lakes Region, primarily from Minneapolis, where there is a sizable Somali population and an “active recruitment arm,” the source said. Several Minneapolis recruits have made their way to Somalia to join the fighting. The network extends to Cincinnati “with Chicago a transit route to and from,” according to the source.
In 2012, Shaker Masri, a 29-year-old Streeterville radical who planned to travel to Somalia to act as a suicide bomber for al-Shabab, was sentenced in Chicago to nearly 10 years in federal prison. And even after he gets out, the would-be jihadi Shaker Masri poses such a risk that he will have to remain under court supervision until he’s almost 60, Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled.
“The alleged involvement of Americans in the attack has not been confirmed,” Joan Hyde, a spokeswoman for the FBI office in Chicago, said in an email. “We continue to work with the State Department and the Kenyan government on the matter.”
A security expert with contacts inside the mall told the Associated Press that the a band of attackers included “a multinational collection from all over the world.”
Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said “two or three Americans” and “one Brit” were among those who attacked the mall. She said in an interview with the 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 U.S.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that the department had “no definitive evidence of the nationalities or the identities” of the attackers.
For years Minnesota has been the center of a federal investigation into the recruiting of fighters for al-Shabab. Authorities say about two dozen young men have left Minnesota since 2007 to join the group. Minnesota’s Somali community is the largest in the U.S.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said the attack showed that al-Shabab was a threat not just to Somalia but to the international community.
Reports that some of the attackers may have been Somalis who lived in the United States illustrate the global nature of the militant group, the Somali leader said in a speech at Ohio State University. “Today, there are clear evidences that Shabab is not a threat to Somalia and Somali people only,” he said. “They are a threat to the continent of Africa, and the world at large.”
Contributing: Associated Press