UN calls for intensified fight against al-Shebab militants

UN calls for intensified fight against al-Shebab militants

UN calls for intensified fight against al-Shebab militants

So far at last 62 people have been killed and 200 have been wounded in the siege but concerns are hight that the death toll of the attack may yet rise once the militants are cleared out. REUTERS photo

The United Nations envoy for Somalia called Sept.24 for more military support for African troops to counter al- Shabaab , the militant group behind the deadly mall siege in neighboring Kenya.

Nicholas Kay, U.N. special representative for Somalia, condemned the attack and said that there was a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to help bring peace to Somalia.

“Security remains the number one challenge, the control and defeating of al-Shabaab is key to this,” Kay told a news briefing in Geneva. He said the group had about 5,000 militants and posed an international threat.

Kay said he would go to the United Nations in New York this week to press for more support for the military effort by AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia.

Lack of means

“They have, for example, not a single military helicopter for a campaign in a country that is the size of Afghanistan physically. This is a mission that needs extra resources in terms of enablers - helicopters and armored vehicles, and possibly a surge also in numbers of troops.”

AMISOM’s mandate includes 12 helicopters but none has yet been contributed to the mission, which has around 17,700 troops, mainly drawn from Uganda, Burundi and Kenya.

Kay said the force was now spread thinly because of its success in pushing back al-Shabaab , adding that he hoped African troop contributing countries would send a mix of attack and support helicopters.

He said the cost of the extra effort would be extremely small compared with what the international community had spent on crises in Afghanistan, Mali and Iraq, but the price of failure or walking away would be very high.

“The Westgate attacks show that the threat from al Shabaab is international, we have seen it before in Kampala and I fear we could see it again elsewhere too. The ideology and terrorist intent respects no borders,” he said.

‘We are not monsters’

Hours after Kay’s remarks, Kenyan forces began defusing explosive devices set up by militants inside a still ongoing shopping mall siege, where extremists claim to be still holding hostages, police said Sept.24.

One of the attackers besieging a Nairobi shopping mall handed chocolate to a four-year-old British boy caught up in the crisis and asked for forgiveness, his uncle told a newspaper Sept.24.

Four-year-old Elliott Prior, who had been shopping with his mother and sister at the Westgate mall when it came under attack on Sept. 21, confronted one of the militants, telling him “you’re a very bad man,” his uncle told The Sun.

Alex Coutts said the attacker took pity on the family and allowed them to escape, handing the children Mars bars as he told them: “Please forgive me, we are not monsters.”

Elliott and his sister Amelie, both clearly distraught, were later pictured outside the mall, clutching the chocolate as a dead body lay behind them.

Sporadic gunfire at the upmarket Westgate mall broke out again at dawn, hours after officials claimed Kenyan troops had wrested back “control” of the sprawling complex from al-Shabaab insurgents, who are said to include Americans and a British woman, Samantha Lewthwaite.

At least 62 shoppers and staff have been killed and close to 200 wounded in the siege, but concerns are high that the toll may yet rise.