WITNESSES are still insisting that a woman was involved in the attacks in Westgate mall despite a government statement that all the attackers were male. Al Shabaab on its Twitter account has also claimed that the 17 attackers were all men including Americans, Britons, Syrians, Swedish and Somalis.
Chief of Defence Forces General Julius Karangi yesterday confirmed that the security forces were dealing with a multinational group. However multiple survivors of the attack have narrated how a woman appeared to be giving orders to the attackers on Saturday afternoon.
This has led to speculation that Samantha Lewthwaite, an associate of Jermaine Grant who is on trial for terrorism in Mombasa, was among the attackers. Two Radio Africa Group employees caught in the gun battle said a woman appeared to be giving orders. One said her face was covered but she had a woman's arms and body. She was not carrying a gun but had large bag around her waist.
They said she would speak English in a foreign accent and then her orders would be translated into Swahili and the attackers would advance. "The woman was not armed but as soon as she issued orders, the men would go on a killing rampage," one employee said. "It was definitely a woman because we could tell it from the voice," said another employee.
The two employees were with newly married East FM presenter Ruhila Adatia and Bidco marketing manager Mitul Shah who were killed during the the attack. They were at the roof top parking of the Westgate mall where East FM had organised a cooking competition for children. The employees hid under tables draped with tablecloths.
Security agents have viewed the CCTV of the attackers as they entered the building and are divided over whether a woman was among them. One group believes that there was a woman with a pony tail but others say it was just a bandana at the back of the head. However, both groups agree that there is a Caucasian or light skinned person amongst the attackers.
Al Shabaab has tweeted the names of 17 attackers including Americans, Britons, Syrians, Swedish and Somalis.
They include Sayid N. from Kismayu; Zaki Jama C from Hargeisa; Saad D from Damascus; Mohamed B from Aleppo; Qasim Said M from Garissa; Ismail G from Helsinki, Finland; Ahmed Nasir S from London; Mustafa N from Kansas City; Abdishakur Sheikh H from Maine, USA; Abdifatah Osman K from Minneapolis; Ahmad, Mohamed I from Saint Paul, USA; Abdikarem Ali M., from Illinois; Shafie D from Tucson; Abdirazak M., from Ontario; Eliko M from Dagestan; Mohammed A from Svalov, Sweden; and Moulid A from Sweden.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Lenku yesterday said two terrorists were killed when security forces assaulted Westgate yesterday. At a joint press briefing with Chief of Staff General Julius Karangi and Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo, Lenku said the security forces led by Kenya Defence Forces now controlled all four floors of the mall.
Sources said KDF soldiers were seriously injured after the attackers set off explosives in the afternoon. Yesterday KDF confirmed that three attackers had been killed while 11 soldiers have been seriously injured and are receiving treatment at the Forces Memorial Hospital. The statement said over 200 civilians have been rescued, 65 are in various hospitals, and 62 have been confirmed dead.
The attackers are suspected to have rigged Westgate with explosives to deter security agents from storming the rooms where they were holding hostages. An explosion at 1pm was followed by a two minute barrage of gunfire in which two attackers were reportedly killed. Later in the afternoon dark smoke started billowing up from the shopping complex.
"The ploy to burn mattresses was a tactic by the terrorists in a bid to try to escape," Karangi said.
At 4.05pm there was another 15 minute gun battle with the attackers who reportedly have a sniper on the roof top and another on the thrid floor staircase.
Karangi said security has been heightened in all points of entry into the country. He said that the attackers at the mall were all men contrary to earlier reports that a woman was involved in the attack.
"The number of hostages in the building is minimal if at all there are any left in the building," Lenku said.
Some reports say that the remaining attackers are locked in the bullet proof Close Circuit Television control room and others that they are in the Barclays Bank which also has bulletproof glass.
A military helicopter with a sniper hovered over Westlands for most of the day as heavily armed troops circled Westgate on Peponi road side and took positions.
Security agents set up a cordon to keep onlookers at least one kilometer away from Westgate.
The military said that they have dominated all floors, cordoned off the building, sealed all exits and there are very minimal chances that the attackers might escape.
Lewthwaite is nicknamed the White Widow and has been hiding out in Kenya for years. A police raid on her home in the Coast in December 2010 missed her but found stocks of bomb making materials.
Her husband Jermaine Lindsay blew himself up in the suicide attacks in London in 2005 in which 52 people were killed. But since
"When Jermaine Grant was arrested in January, he quickly opened up about Lewthwaite to the local police," a British intelligence source told the Daily Mirror this week.
British police are expected to start testifying today in Mombasa in the trial of Grant (see story Page Five).
"Working with the Kenyans has provided MI5 with a vital resource on this woman and her associates," the source told the Mirror.
"Lewthwaite has some of the toughest and most resourceful members of the special forces and intelligence community looking for her," said the source.
"The fact that no one has reported this white woman moving about in remote areas proves how well protected she is," he said.
Lewthwaite was 18 when she converted to Islam. Little is known about what Lewthwaite was doing before her arrival in Kenya in August 2012 on a forged passport but it is believed she joined al-Qaeda in 2008.