Reports that the gunmen spoke English suggest that they were not natives of Somalia, where citizens generally speak Somali.
The militants were using “big-caliber guns,” said Frank Musungu, a Kenyan army warrant officer who was at the mall when the militants stormed it Saturday. “There was one woman among them. She had an AK-47.”
Foreigners have reached high ranks in the Somali extremist group. One senior field commander, Omar Shafik Hammami, an Alabama native who went by the name Abu Mansoor al-
Amriki, starred in propaganda rap videos to attract Western recruits. He was reportedly killed last month by his comrades after a falling-out with the militia’s top leadership.
The foreign jihadists were the militia’s key link to al-Qaeda’s main body in Pakistan and have been central players in some of the militia’s most gruesome attacks. In September 2009, a Somali American from Seattle drove a truck bomb into an African Union base in Somalia, killing 21 peacekeepers.
Even though many U.S. counterterorism officials and analysts say al-Shabab does not have the capability to strike the United States, some U.S. politicians have voiced concern. Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” that he assumed that law enforcement agencies are looking at ways to prevent a similar attack in the United States.
“We know there’s probably still 15-20 Somali Americans who are still active over there,” King said. “The concern would be if any of them have come back to the United States and would use those abilities here in the United States.”
Details about the identities of the victims continued to trickle out Monday. They included Kofi Awoonor, a well-known Ghanaian poet, professor and former diplomat; a retired tropical-disease specialist from Peru; the president of a football club in Kenya; a Canadian diplomat; and a 33-year-old Dutch researcher who worked for the Clinton Health Access Initiative and had just earned a degree from Harvard University, according to the Associated Press.
“We lost one of our foundation’s people there, one of our health access workers who was a wonderful Dutch nurse who was in Nairobi because she was about to have a baby,” former president Bill Clinton told “PBS Newshour.” He added: “She and the baby’s father were just strolling through the mall. It’s tragic.”
The father, an Australian architect who works in Africa, also was killed in the attack, the AP reported.
Craig Whitlock, Scott Wilson, Anne Gearan, Ernesto Londoño and Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.