Israeli forces were Sunday reportedly helping Kenyan officials end a deadly siege at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, where al-Qaeda-linked terrorists have been holed up for a day with some 30 hostages.
According to a Kenyan security source, Israeli forces entered the mall, where a siege has been ongoing since Saturday, and “are rescuing the hostages and injured,” AFP reported.
However, an unnamed security source told Reuters that Israeli advisers were helping in negotiations, but not in operations.
“There are Israeli advisers helping with the negotiating strategy, but no Israelis involved in any imminent storming operation,” the Israeli source said.
Kenyan officials say 59 people have been killed and 175 injured in the coordinated terror attack, carried out by a group of up to 15 terrorists aligned with the Islamic Somali al-Shabab movement.
The attack began on Saturday, when witnesses said at least five gunmen — including at least one woman — first attacked an outdoor cafe at Westgate Mall, a shiny, new shopping center that hosts Nike, Adidas and Bose stores. The mall’s ownership is Israeli, and security experts have long said the structure made an attractive terrorist target.
Over 1,000 people have been evacuated or have fled from the mall, officials said, and the terrorists remained inside with an unknown number of hostages in an ongoing siege.
President Shimon Peres, in a Sunday letter to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, said, ”I wish to extend my deepest condolences to the people of Kenya on the horrific terror attack in Nairobi. From the Holy Land we pray for the release of the hostages, the full recovery of the injured, and comfort for the families of the victims.
“Terrorism is a global threat and those who perpetrate it make no distinction between young and old, men and women,” Peres wrote. “There is no justification for the murder of innocent civilians and Israel stands shoulder to shoulder with the Kenyan government and people at this difficult time. We in Israel know the pain of terror and will do whatever we can to support the people of Kenya.”
Kenyatta said Saturday that he had lost “very close family members” in the attack carried out by “despicable perpetrators.”
In August, Mossad agents, along with officials from the FBI, aided in investigating whether a massive fire at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was a terrorist attack. According to foreign media reports, the Mossad runs an outpost in Nairobi, tasked with maintaining security ties with Kenya and other East African nations.
In 2002, terrorists in Mombasa blew up an Israeli-owned hotel and unsuccessfully tried to shoot down an Israeli passenger plane as it was taking off.
Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report.