Kenya has vowed not to bow to al-Shabab threats of more attacks if troops are not pulled out of Somalia, following a devastating mall attack in Nairobi by the al-Qaeda-linked insurgents.
“We went to Somalia because al-Shabab was a threat to national security… We will continue to take action on that front until our security and interests in the country are protected,” Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku told reporters.
Somalia’s al-Shabab chief Ahmed Abdi Godane said the Nairobi Westgate mall carnage, in which at least 67 people were killed, would be followed by “more bloodshed” unless Kenya left Somalia.
Kenya invaded southern Somalia to attack al-Shabab bases two years ago, and later joined the 17,700-strong African Union force deployed in the country.
Funerals continued Friday for the victims on the third and final day of official mourning, with President Uhuru Kenyatta attending the service of his slain nephew.
As well as scores of Kenyans, many of the dead were foreigners, including from Britain, Canada, China, France, the Netherlands, India, South Africa and South Korea.
Dozens more are unaccounted for, with 59 people still listed by the Red Cross as missing after the attack, one of the worst in Kenya’s history.
The extremists on Friday gloated at the massacre, in which a group of gunmen stormed the part Israeli-owned complex at midday on Saturday, firing from the hip and hurling grenades at shoppers and staff, before holding off Kenyan and foreign forces with a barrage of bullets for four days.
“The mesmeric performance by the Westgate Warriors was undoubtedly gripping, but despair not folks, that was just the premiere of Act 1,” the group said in one of a string of messages posted on social media.
Police are continuing to scour the fire-blackened rubble in Westgate for bodies and clues, with Lenku insisting that contents of smashed shops would be protected from looters.
With about a third of the building collapsed – as though hit by an earthquake – and with the risk of booby traps amongst the mangled wreckage, the work of international forensic and security experts will take days to complete.
Several members of the Kenyan forces involved in battle inside the mall said that the fire broke out Monday after Kenyans fired at least two bazooka anti-tank rockets at the gunmen, who were holed up in the strong room of a supermarket.
Top Interpol official Jean-Michel Louting, speaking near the mall, told AFP the challenge for investigators was to try “to remove the three levels that collapsed and see what is underneath”.