A standoff between Police in Kenya and members of Al-Shabab, the terrorist group holding several hostages at an upscale shopping mall in Nigeria continues, with reports of gunfire exchanges on Sunday, the second day of the hostage standoff. Kenyan Police said late Sunday that most of the hostages have now been rescued and Kenyan security forces have taken control of most of the shopping mall.
An Al-Shabab insider has identified 3 of the Islamist militant group that ambushed the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi as U.S. residents, possibly American citizens, two from Minnesota and a third man from Missouri. All 3 members of the terrorist group from the United States are believed to be in their twenties.
In a statement released on Saturday, the U.S. State Department confirmed that some of the victims have been identified as American citizens.
The FBI has closely monitored Al- Shabab's active terrorist cells in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Al-Shabab has successfully recruited more American citizens than any other terrorist organization.
Kenyan officials confirmed on Saturday that Al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda affiliate based in Somalia claimed responsibility for the deadly terrorist attack.
On the group's Twitter feed, Al-Shabab said they warned Kenya's government that failure to remove its forces from Somalia "would have severe consequences."
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have warned that al-Shabab terrorist cells operating inside the United States are part of a “deadly pipeline,” sending money and fighters from the U.S. to Somalia.
In October, 2011, a 22 year-old American from Minnesota, Abdisalan Hussein Ali, was identified as one of two suicide bombers disguised as soldiers involved in a terrorist attack on the Somali capital that killed at least 10 people. Ali was the third known suicide bomber from Minnesota.
Two weeks prior to the suicide attack in 2011, two Minnesota women were convicted of providing financial support to al-Shabab in Somali.
Al-Shabab's leader has threatened to attack American shopping malls in the past.
Since 2010, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has extended the "If You See Something, Say Something" public awareness campaign to much of the nation's privately owned public space, often referred as "soft targets." Soft targets are attractive to terrorists because of lack of security and opportunity to harm a large number of people that gather in enclosed spaces.
Shopping malls are considered "soft targets" for terrorist attacks because they are private property, therefore they are not regulated by the Federal Government.
The vast majority, 85 percent of U.S. infrastructure is privately owned, in addition to shopping malls, the list includes airports, public transportation systems, hotels, churches, universities, sports arenas and movie theaters.
Worldwide, shopping malls have long been a favorite target for terrorists. Several plots have been interrupted in the U.S. and several more identified in the planning stages in police raids which turned up photographs, maps and architectural plans.
As live footage unfolds at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, security experts and academic scholars are debating the likelihood that a similar attack could happen at U.S. shopping malls.
Both the U.S. government and shopping mall's management downplay the possibility of such a attack on American shopping malls. To admit the woefully inadequate security at most U.S. shopping malls would not be good for business.
In an interview in 2009, one U.S. security expert said it is not a question of "if" terrorists will target American shopping malls, but rather it is when?