The death toll at the Nairobi mall continues to rise, standing at 59 with about 30 shoppers still trapped and perhaps some hostages still being held.
Haaretz is reporting that there are Israeli “advisors” on scene at the mall:
Israeli advisers are helping Kenya formulate a strategy to end a siege at a Nairobi shopping mall where Islamist militants have killed at least 59 people and are holding hostages, an Israeli security source said on Sunday.
“There are Israeli advisers helping with the negotiating strategy, but no Israelis involved in any imminent storming operation,” said the source, who declined to be identified.
The source said only a “handful” of Israelis, “purely in an advisory role,” were on scene at the upscale Westgate shopping center, which has several Israeli-owned outlets and is frequented by expatriates and Kenyans.
An Israeli source in Nairobi said all Israelis who were in the mall at the time of the attack had made it out safely, with the last three rescued overnight.
There were conflicting reports from other security sources in Nairobi about the part Israel was playing.
One Kenyan security source, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters that the Israeli military was involved in the operation, while a private security official also said they were helping comb the mall.
But the Kenyan Interior Minister insisted it was a national operation, despite offers of foreign support.
The attack by Al-Qaida-linked militants at the Nairobi wounded 175, in addition to those killed, Kenya’s interior cabinet secretary said earlier Sunday.
Multiple barrages of gunfire erupted Sunday morning from inside the building where there is a hostage standoff with Islamic extremists nearly 24 hours after they attacked using grenades and assault rifles.
“The priority is to save as many lives as possible,” Joseph Lenku said, reassuring the families of the hostages in the upscale Westgate mall. Kenyan forces have already rescued about 1,000 people, he said.
Officials in the Foreign Ministry said three Israeli citizens that were in the mall at the time of the attack were able to escape unharmed and were collected by the Deputy Israeli Ambassador to Kenya Yaki Lopez and the embassy security officer that were present on the scene.
A senior official at the foreign ministry said that the families of the Israelis that escaped the incident were informed. The ministry said that beyond these persons it is believed that no other Israelis were present.
Reuters is reporting that the IDF is involved in operations inside the mall, but a Kenyan government official is denying that report.
No Americans were killed in the attack according to the State Department, although two were injured and the non-American wife of a USAID official was killed.
Richard Fernandez reports that the weapons used by the terrorists could very well have come from Libya:
One of sources of al-Shabab’s arms, according to the Telegraph, is Libya. “Libyan arms that went missing during the fighting to remove Col Muammar Gaddafi are now spreading ever further afield, being used in conflicts as far apart as Niger, Somalia, Gaza and Syria, a UN report says.”
The new report by a special UN security council committee suggests that they have now travelled even further, with Libyan ammunition showing up in the continuing war being waged by al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda offshoot in Somalia.
This is the very same group believed to have attacked the Nairobi mall. Never fear, the AFP news agency reports that the “Shebab Twitter account [was] suspended after Kenya mall attack claims”. I guess any moment now their Facebook account, if it exists, will be similarly sanctioned. That’ll learn ‘em.
Fernandez also points out that the Israelis may be interested in al-Shabab operations because of the Iranian connection. He links to a Reuters story last summer about a ship from Iran bound for Somalia loaded with arms that was stopped in Yemen.
The body count will almost certainly continue to rise as the police and army move through the mall, clearing it store by store. But with the IDF on site — even if only in an advisory role — the chances of a successful end to this tragedy have improved markedly.