U.S. seeks access to site of terror attack in Kenya
An image grab taken from AFP TV shows a member of the Kenyan security forces taking position inside a shopping mall following an attack by masked gunmen in Nairobi
September 25th, 2013
04:14 PM ET

U.S. seeks access to site of terror attack in Kenya

By Barbara Starr

U.S. security and law enforcement personnel are pressing for access to a Kenyan shopping mall where a terror attack and subsequent armed standoff killed at least 67 people.

A U.S. official with direct knowledge of the situation and the latest security assessment said authorities want to know whether any Americans were among the attackers in Nairobi as claimed by the Somali-based al-Shabaab terror group said to be behind the Westgate Mall attack.

“That is the million dollar question,” the official said. “We do not have much fidelity on this. We haven’t had access to the scene.”

Kenyan authorities have said the attackers were from a number of countries, but have not confirmed that any Americans were involved.

United States knows so far that the attack that began on Saturday was carefully planned.

“This is not something where the attackers walked into the mall all of the sudden,” the official said.

The United States is looking at the possibility the attackers stored their weapons inside the mall ahead of time, and may have rented a store in the upscale mall as a base of operations.

The United States also is looking at reports the attackers may have had access to blueprints and knowledge of where employee and service personnel stairways were located, as well as ventilation systems.

FBI experts are assisting the Kenyans on a preliminary basis. They have specific expertise in analyzing explosives and fingerprints.

But the United States wants autopsy and forensic data, including DNA samples, to help determine if Americans were part of it, the official said.

The United States also will scour any communications or intercepts for clues, according to other officials.

The official emphasized reports of Twitter accounts and “fragmentary” statements from Kenyan officials about the involvement of Americans “are not enough for us” to base a conclusion.

U.S. experts also will try to analyze any evidence of grenades and belt-fed machines guns, the official said. He noted grenade attacks by al-Shabaab are fairly common.

The U.S. belief so far is that this attack was ordered by al-Shabaab hardline leader Ahmed Abdi Godane.

“Nothing like this would have gotten off the ground without him. It’s safe to assume this is something he would have blessed,” the official said.

While al-Shabaab has used fighters in Kenya for some time, the United States is also looking at the possibility the attack involved some who crossed from Somalia into Kenya.

But the official cautioned it was premature to draw conclusions about whether al-Shabaab now poses a growing threat.

While the attack was successful, he noted that it had lost “half their safe haven” inside Somalia. Al-Shabaab has also lost control over the southern port of Kismayo, which funded much of its operations in the past.

However, there are a growing number of fighters across East Africa who are now seen as loyal to the group, believing that Somalia is still lawless enough for them to operate.

"Despite being severely weakened as an insurgency, al-Shabaab’s lethality as a terrorist outfit has been fairly constant," another U.S. official said. "Al Shabaab’s operational arm may be benefiting from additional resources now that the group is less preoccupied with governance.

“The assault on the Westgate Mall in Kenya was the most prominent in a string of terrorist attacks in Somalia and Kenya stretching back over the past two years. It’s really too early to say if al-Shabaab’s latest attack is the beginning of a broader campaign in Kenya or a desperate attempt to compel Nairobi to withdraw its troops from Somalia,” that official said.

The first official pointed out as well planned-and large-scale– as the attack appears to have been, so far it seems to have been a fairly typical of Al Shabaab capabilities using conventional hand-held weapons.

One question is whether the attackers had safe houses in Kenya before and after the assault.

While the United States believes al-Shabaab was behind the attack, the incident also refocuses attention on a continuing al Qaeda cell in East Africa that has existed since the 1998 attack on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the first official said.

While many of those militants have been killed or jailed, the United States has been tracking second and third generation fighters from the original group.

The United States additionally wants to know if they had any involvement, given statements by Kenyan authorities that the attack was an al Qaeda operation.

That al Qaeda group closely cooperated with al-Shabaab in the 2006 to 2009 timeframe. While they fell out after that, there is concern they might have regrouped.

CNN's Evan Perez contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Al-Shabaab • Terrorism
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. denverboy

    Im so surprised with the NSA and all it's high tech spy programs PRISM Keystroke and Im sure a whole host of others SNowden did not uncover..Im SUrprised with all this information gathering that this seemingly well planned and thought out Attack was not Pick-Up so to speak by the NSA at some point..Am I reading this right that the Mall attack could have been a year or more in the making ?? ...
    Well perhaps if the NSA was not so busy chasing down lost loves and invading Facebook and Listening in on everyday Americans....They might have been more attentive to you know where the terrorist are hanging out.. Syria.. Iran Iraq Afgan-Land ..Somolia..you know the part of the world where this whole thing has a real foothold..Not Americas facebook page...Kinda took the All seeing NSA by total surprise...Perhaps these Super secret programs are geared toward just Spying on AMericans and not so much for the..Terrorist like we are told by a ever honest NSA...There primary mission is to keep running tabs on AMericans not Terrorist at all..It's 90% domestic spying and 10% International snooping....
    Because they know what we all had for breakfast today but are unable to pick up the Chatter for a domestic target like the Mall in Kenya...Oh yea there right on thoes terrorist..we can see that...all over em...and they know what brand of Butt whipe we all prefer Im sure...Now that is money well spent..DOnt you think America ????

    September 30, 2013 at 10:24 am | Reply
  2. joe d

    look no further then the israeli moussaud..

    September 27, 2013 at 10:12 am | Reply
  3. John Geheran

    Meanwhile, as the world reels from the senseless killings by Islamic terrorists in Kenya, New Yorkers are witnesses to pro-jihad Muslims marching down Madison Ave – black flags and all. Will someone please connect the dots!

    September 26, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  4. John Smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    September 26, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Reply
    • ACSJ

      Do shut up you neo nazi idiot. The intelligent world knows who does most of the killings and it is not the US

      September 26, 2013 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  5. PlayNiceKids

    I hope the Kenyans tell our FBI and the other "help" we're sending them to take a hike; this can't be good. If no Americans appear to have been killed on a preliminary evaluation, why are we pushing this hard for confirmation and involvement? The US feds are already using this to justify their surveillance system–note that we're "scouring information intercepts for clues", so it looks like once again this giant spying apparatus failed to PREVENT a terror attack–now we want DNA and forensic evidence too? And our guys are the only ones who have the expertise to analyze what sounds like not-very-specialized explosives and...fingerprints? Is there really NO ONE on the African continent who can analyze grenade residue and dust for fingerprints? Why are we so eager to make this our business? Are we really just that eager to start some kind of war against some kind of terrorists somewhere or something?

    Also, hats off to the incomparable Barbara Starr, CNN's renowned "White House stenographer", for the intrepid reporting on this article. No attempt to get the Kenyan government's side of the story, and, as is Ms. Starr's hallmark, the whole thing is peppered with, "US officials said..." with no attempts to dig deeper or ask more questions–you know, journalism. Loving the several instances of "it's too early to say whether this thing can be speculated on, but we're going to say it just to put the idea in your mind". I'm surprised it took a contributor at all to write this article–did one of you hold the tape recorder and the other type up this de facto transcript?

    Basically, what this article lets me know is that there's something rotten in Denmark. I really hope this doesn't turn into another "here we go again!" moment.

    September 26, 2013 at 9:37 am | Reply
  6. desert voice

    Hopefully none of President Obama's relatives was hurt, since they without doubt visit that mall.

    September 26, 2013 at 7:52 am | Reply
  7. Jeff Tartt

    Why didn't the U.S. treat Benghazi like Kenya.Our President and H.Clinton LIED to the American people and the world and the Left wants to give them a pass?How embarrassing for all you Liberals out there.

    September 25, 2013 at 11:52 pm | Reply
    • Bobpitt

      Embarrassing for Liberals? is embarrassing for Americans to have their own perpetrate terror on someone else's country..

      September 26, 2013 at 9:03 am | Reply
    • ACSJ

      It is more of an insult to all Americans. The embarrassment is that US citizens are allowing partisan politics to cover up the handing over of US embassy staff to Al Qaeda as a 9-11 gift to terrorist

      September 26, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Reply
  8. World Chaos News

    Reblogged this on World Chaos News.

    September 25, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Reply

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