A team of Israeli experts has arrived in Kenya to help end the three-day standoff with Somalia’s al-Shabab fighters at a partly Tel Aviv-owned shopping mall in Nairobi.
Israeli officials refused to talk about the precise nature of the assistance they are providing to Kenyan authorities, The Associated Press reported on Monday.
“Israel is always ready to help…friendly countries, in combating terrorism. I think that terrorism has become a threat to the entire world and therefore countries – the United States, Israel, and other Western countries – should cooperate,” said Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli cabinet minister for strategic affairs.
Israel and Kenya exchange intelligence. Tel Aviv has also trained security forces of the eastern African country, according to some reports.
Kenya government spokesman Manoah Esipisu said on Monday that the siege of Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, which has left at least 62 dead and about 200 injured, was nearing the end.
Kenyan forces backed by Israeli agents launched a major assault on Sunday evening to end the standoff that started on Saturday when 10 to 15 al-Shabab militants stormed the mall from two sides, and warned the Kenyan government to withdraw its troops from their country.
“Our special forces are inside the building checking the rooms. Obviously it’s a very, very big building,” Esipisu said.
According to reports, the dead also included three British nationals, two French women, two Canadian citizens, including a diplomat, a Chinese woman, two Indians, a Ghanaian poet, a South Korean, a South African, and a Dutch woman.
On Saturday, al-Shabab fighters claimed responsibility for the assault.
“The Christian government of Kenya invaded our country in October 2011 killing many innocent civilians with their military jets,” al-Shabab spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage said.
“We have warned Kenya of that attack, but it ignored (us), still forcefully holding our lands … while killing our innocent civilians,” Rage said.
“If you want Kenya in peace, it will not happen as long as your boys are in our lands,” Rage said in the statement.
Kenya has more than 4,000 army soldiers in southern Somalia, where they have been battling the al-Shabab fighters since 2011.
The Kenyan troops are part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) that gets training and equipment from the United States.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.