'No information' that Canadians involved in Kenya attack: Alexander
Published Monday, September 23, 2013 9:56AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, September 23, 2013 10:31PM EDT
The federal government has “absolutely no information” to confirm reports that a Canadian was one of the gunmen in a deadly attack by al Qaeda-affiliated militants on a Nairobi shopping centre, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said, but he added that the investigation is ongoing.
The Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabaab, which has ties to al Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack at the Westgate Mall, saying it is retribution for Kenyan forces' 2011 push into neighbouring Somalia.
The attack killed at least 62 people, including two Canadians.
On Sunday, an unverified English-language Twitter account that purported to belong to the press office for al-Shabaab posted what it claimed was a list of names of the terrorists who had stormed the mall.
The list includes a “24 y.o. from Ontario Canada.” Also on the list were the names of three people from the U.S., one from Finland and one from the United Kingdom.
Twitter later shut down the account.
Alexander said later Monday that the government has “absolutely no information to confirm an involvement of any Canadian in this attack,” but acknowledged that the investigation “is far from complete.”
Reporters with the Associated Press and al Jazeera said their al-Shabaab sources have told them the Twitter account and names were fake. But CNN reported that its al-Shabaab source confirmed the Twitter posts were real.
The FBI is now actively investigating the claims.
Rick Roth, the spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, said his office is aware of the allegation made on the Twitter account and is co-operating with the investigation.
“We are aware of the reports but do not comment on operational matters of national security,” he said in an emailed statement.
“Our government will provide its full support to any investigation of a terrorist act that does or may include Canadian citizens. Terrorists, regardless of their citizenship, must be punished for their cowardice and depravity.”
The Kenya Red Cross confirmed Monday that at least 62 people were killed in the attack. Naguib Damji, 59, a businessman from Vancouver who was visiting a cousin in Nairobi, died, although family members said they were initially told he had died of a heart attack.
The Canadian government said Saturday that Annemarie Desloges, a 29-year-old Canadian diplomat working in Kenya, also died in the attack. Desloges had been stationed in Nairobi while working as a liaison officer with the Canadian Border Services Agency.
Alexander, himself a former diplomat in Afghanistan, said his department was “crushed” to learn of Desloges’ death.
“It’s a huge loss for the department and for all of Canada,” Alexander told CTV’s Power Play.
“She really was one of our best and doing some of the hardest things that we ask Canadians to do abroad: visiting refugee camps, working on the integrity of our immigration programs.”
Alexander also said that so far, the federal government has confirmed that two Canadians were injured in the attack.
Hodan Hassan of Minnesota told CTV News that her two nieces, who were born in Toronto, both suffered injuries in the attack.
Hassan said Fardosa Abdi, 17, and Dheeman Abdi, 16 were inside Westgate Mall Saturday when gunmen stormed the building and began firing at shoppers.
She said Fardosa Abdi suffered severe leg injuries and has already undergone two surgeries and two blood transfusions.
“This morning there was no change in her situation,” Hassan said. “We’re just praying and hoping she’ll be fine.”
Dheeman Abdi suffered a gunshot wound to her leg and injuries to her arm in an explosion.
Hassan said both sisters are in shock and haven’t been able to talk about the attack.
“Their parents are hopeful their daughters are going to be OK,” she said.
Hassan said the family moved to Nairobi about two years ago.
Winnipeg resident Murtaza Xavery, who immigrated to Canada from Kenya in 1989, said his niece was trapped in the mall for seven hours until she was rescued by special forces.
Xavery told CTV Winnipeg that his niece tried to escape, but instead nearly ran into gunfire and had to hide out in a shop’s storeroom.
“She was running with the rest of the people, but she fell,” Xavery said. “After she fell, when she got up, she saw the group in front being shot at.”
Al-Shabaab, which is fighting to spread Islamist law in Somalia, has actively tried to recruit members in the U.S. and Europe and several Canadians are suspected of having joined the extremist group.
Alexander said foreign fighters going overseas to join terror groups “is a global phenomenon,” and said it’s a challenge for Canada and other world powers to keep track of recruiting and training going on in far-flung locales.
“Some of the motivating material, the ideological poison that’s out there, is on the internet, and we can’t control it completely or even at all sometimes,” Alexander said of materials used to by terror groups to recruit young fighters from around the world. “And so we need to monitor these trends.”