Working near bodies crushed by rubble in a bullet-scarred, scorched mall, forensic experts began fingerprint, DNA and ballistic analysis Wednesday to help determine the identities and nationalities of victims and al-Shabaab gunmen who attacked a Nairobi shopping centre, killing more than 60 people.
Kenya Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said forensic experts from Canada, the U.S., Israel, Britain and Germany are all taking part in trying to reconstruct the scene at the mall. He said results would not be ready before a week's time.
A gaping hole in Westgate Mall's roof was caused by Kenyan soldiers who fired rocket-propelled grenades inside, knocking out a support column, a government official said. The official, who insisted he not be identified because he was sharing security information, said the soldiers fired to distract a sniper so hostages could be evacuated.
CBC correspondent Nahlah Ayed said from just outside the mall that investigators will be trying to get a better idea of how the attack was staged.
"This was something that has been in the planning for weeks and months, according to American officials, who also believe that there were foreign militants among the group," Ayed told CBC News Network. The U.S. believes the attackers had detailed maps, and perhaps a mole inside the mall that helped spirit in weapons, she said.
CBC's Derek Stoffel, also in Nairobi, said it's not clear yet what the Canadian role in the investigation is, beyond being involved in the reconstruction of the Saturday attack.
Attack killed at least 67
The current death toll is 67 and is likely to climb with uncounted bodies remaining in the wreckage of the mall. Another 175 people were injured, including more than 60 who remain hospitalized. At least 18 foreigners were among those killed, including two Canadians.
'The Mujahideen carried out a meticulous vetting process at the mall and have taken every possible precaution to separate the Muslims from the [disbelievers] before carrying out their attack.'- al-Shabaab email
Morgue officials in Nairobi have been prepared for the last two days for a large influx of bodies still in the mall. Officials have told AP that the shopping centre, which the attackers held for four days, could hold dozens more bodies. The government has confirmed 72 total deaths: 61 civilians, six security forces and five attackers. The Red Cross says 71 people remain missing.
"Several witnesses who have come out in the last few days have talked about seeing a number of bodies," Ayed said. "In addition, for the past few days we’ve heard from loved ones who are outside of here who have come every day looking for their loved ones and saying that they have still been unaccounted for. The Red Cross says there is at least somewhere between 50 and 60 people still unaccounted for, so it’s expected the body count will rise.”
The leader of al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamist extremist group, has for the first time confirmed its members were responsible.
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In an audio message posted on an al-Shabaab-linked website on Wednesday night, Ahmed Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr, said the attack on the mall was in retaliation for Kenya's incursion in October 2011 into southern Somalia to crush the insurgents.
"Take your troops out or prepare for a long-lasting war, blood, destruction and evacuation," Godane said in the message, apparently directed at the Kenyan government.
The military group also said that foreigners were a "legitimate target" and confirmed witness accounts that gunmen separated Muslims from other people and let the Muslims go free. The others were gunned down or taken hostage.
"The Mujahideen carried out a meticulous vetting process at the mall and have taken every possible precaution to separate the Muslims from the Kuffar [disbelievers] before carrying out their attack," the group said in an email exchange with The Associated Press.
Witnesses have told AP and other media that gunmen rounded up people, asked questions about Islam that a Muslim would know and told the Muslims to leave the mall. Still, some Muslims were among the victims.
Victims from at least 11 countries
Also among those killed when the militants entered the Westgate Mall on Saturday, firing assault rifles and throwing grenades were citizens from Canada, the U.K., France, the Netherlands, Australia, Peru, India, Ghana, South Africa and China.
Asked if al-Shabaab had intended to kill foreigners, the group said "our target was to attack the Kenyan govt on it's soil and any part of the Kenyan territory is a legitimate target ... and Kenya should be held responsible for the loss of life, whether foreigners or local."
Al-Shabaab had threatened retaliation against Kenya for sending its troops into Somalia against al-Shabaab, and many of those killed in an attack that horrified the world were Kenyans.
Though Kenya's foreign minister earlier said that "two or three" American citizens may have been involved in the attack, a Western official said that after checking passport and refugee databases, there is not yet an indication any Americans were involved. Several U.S. cities, notably Minneapolis, host large Somali-American communities.
The violence continued elsewhere Wednesday. On Kenya's border with Somalia, in the town of Wajir, police chief Isiah Odhiambo said at least two people were wounded after a gunman opened fire in town and two explosions detonated. Odhiambo said police repelled one gunman.
Al-Shabaab on its Twitter feed Wednesday claimed that the Kenyan government assault team carried out "a demolition" of the building, burying 137 hostages in the debris. A government spokesman denied the claim and said Kenyan forces were clearing all rooms Wednesday, firing as they moved and encountering no one.
Kenyan government spokesman Manoah Esipisu told AP that no chemical weapons were used — including tear gas — and that the collapse of floors in the mall was caused by a fire set by the attackers.
"Al-Shabaab is known for wild allegations and there is absolutely no truth to what they're saying," he said.
The mall's top level parking lot collapsed in the middle of the building. That brought the second level down onto the ground floor on top of at least eight civilians and one or more attackers, said Esipisu.
Interior Minister Lenku said there were no indications that a woman took part in the attack, despite persistent media speculation, and he said officials have not yet confirmed reports that the attackers had rented a shop inside the mall.
U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec said Wednesday that Washington is providing technical support and equipment to Kenyan security forces and medical responders. Godec said the U.S. is assisting the investigation to bring the attack's organizers and perpetrators to justice.
In another development, a British man was arrested in Kenya following the attack, Britain's Foreign Office said.
British officials are ready to provide assistance to the man, the agency said in a statement Wednesday. Officials would not provide his name or details. He is believed to be in his 30s. Britain's Daily Mail newspaper said he was arrested Monday as he tried to board a flight from Nairobi to Turkey with a bruised face and while acting suspiciously.
Mourners sang funeral dirges and traditional leaders poured libations Wednesday for beloved poet Kofi Awoonor as hundreds gathered at the airport where his body was brought home days after he was slain in the attack.
Awoonor, 78, was a literary icon in his native Ghana, and was known worldwide for his innovative style that translated the rhythms of his Ewe language into English. He also was a veteran diplomat, and top government officials and members of parliament came to the airport. - Associated Press
Kenyan officials have said that 11 suspects in total have been arrested in connection with the attack, including at least seven at the airport. They are being questioned, said the government spokesman.
The International Criminal Court in the Hague has said it is prepared to work with Kenya to bring the attackers to justice. ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement that while Kenya has primary jurisdiction in the slaying of civilians in the Westgate Mall, the atrocity could also fall under the court's jurisdiction.
Al-Shabaab, whose name means "The Youth" in Arabic, first began threatening Kenya with a major attack in late 2011, after Kenya sent troops into Somalia following a spate of kidnappings of Westerners inside Kenya.
The mall attack was the deadliest militant attack in Kenya since the 1998 al-Qaeda truck bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, which killed more than 200 people.