NAIROBI: Kenyan authorities are holding eight people in connection with a weekend attack by Islamist militants on a Nairobi shopping mall, while three others were released after questioning, the interior minister said Friday.
Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab said its “warriors” stormed the mall Saturday, holding out for four days in an assault that killed 67 civilians and members of the security forces. The government said five of the militants were also killed.
Al-Shabab said it launched the operation to demand Kenya withdraw its troops from Somalia, where Kenyan forces were sent in 2011 to strike at the group which it blamed for a series of attacks and kidnappings in Kenya’s northern area and coastline.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has said Kenya would not withdraw.
“Police are holding eight suspects as they seek to unmask the face behind the terror attack. Three others were interrogated and released,” Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku told a news briefing.
He said the suspects were being held under anti-terrorism laws meaning they could be held “for longer periods before being arraigned in court,” although he did not give details.
Ole Lenku repeated Kenya’s determination not to withdraw from Somalia, citing a mission of “national security.”
“That threat has not been eliminated and therefore it has not changed our position. It has been very clear that we will continue to take action on that front until our security and interests in the country are protected,” Ole Lenku said.
The minister said there were no formal reports of people still missing since the attack. The Kenyan Red Cross had previously said dozens were still missing.
Ole Lenku added that investigators, who would determine the identity of the attackers, were sifting through the rubble of the mall where three floors collapsed after a series of blasts and a huge blaze. He said they were making “good progress.”
The investigators recovered a vehicle believed to have been used in the attack and are tracing the car’s ownership after it was retrieved outside the mall, an official said on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to reveal such details while the investigation is ongoing. They are looking at more vehicles that may have been used by the attackers, but gave no more details.
An AP reporter saw a group of Kenyan and foreign investigators inspecting a silver saloon car parked about 20 meters from the mall’s main entrance Thursday afternoon. The car’s trunk was open as the investigators took pictures and notes, but it was impossible to tell what exactly they were seeing.
Kenyan police have given little information since the attack that shocked this East African nation, saying the investigation has only just began into the storming of the mall on Saturday by Islamic militants throwing grenades and using assault rifles.