Kenyan Investigators Scale Back Number Of Mall Attackers

Authorities are releasing a few more details about the Islamist extremists who held siege at a Kenyan mall for four days in September, including the gym at which they bulked up before the attack.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. We turn, now, to Kenya for an update on the gunmen who attacked a popular Nairobi mall in September, killing dozens. Authorities now believe there were only four attackers. They say they know the identity of two of them.

And they're zeroing in on their activities in the weeks leading up to the attack - where they plotted the assault, what weapons they used, and as NPR's Gregory Warner reports, even the gym where they worked out.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: With two treadmills and a backup generator to keep them running during blackouts, the Andalus Gym is one of the better gyms in the Nairobi neighborhood of Eastleigh, a neighborhood also called Little Mogadishu, for its predominantly ethnic Somali population. The gym is popular with university students and young business owners, even an occasional Somali pop star, all now rushing to buff up for their Christmas vacations on the beaches of Mombassa, according to gym manager Sharmake Mohammed.

SHARMAKE MOHAMMED: Yeah. They like that ocean, I don't know. They like, also, in Malindi.

WARNER: Malindi is a popular tourist resort, not a destination spot for Islamic fundamentalists. But this gym is where U.S. officials and Kenyan investigators now believe that the four gunmen, in the weeks before their suicide attack on the Westgate Mall, came to work out.

Sharmake is here all the time. He says he knows everybody.

MOHAMMED: I know all of them, the faces.

WARNER: But when I ask him about the faces of the four gunmen, captured on closed-circuit mall footage and shown on every Kenyan TV channel, he insists...

MOHAMMED: No. It's not terrorists in my gym.

WARNER: Authorities initially estimated that maybe a dozen people attacked the mall. Investigators now believe it was just four, all ethnic Somalis who crossed into Kenya and rented an apartment in Eastleigh as early as June. And here in Nairobi is where they acquired the AK-47s and grenades, and waited for a busy September Saturday to attack the mall.

With those light weapons, they apparently extended the siege for four days, the battle only ending when the three floors of the mall collapsed. Kenyan authorities say that four badly charred bodies pulled out of the rubble are those of the gunmen. Meanwhile, four other ethnic Somalis arrested in Nairobi have been charged with assisting in the terrorist operation. Their trial begins in January.

Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi.

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