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Kenyan Government in Charge After Mall Attack; Kenyan Attacks Concern for America; One Week to Avoid Government Shutdown

Aired September 23, 2013 - 11:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: So we are just getting breaking news. I want to bring it up to speed for you. There's gunfire and heavy smoke and several arrests in Nairobi. We've got new developments where a dwindling number of Islamists gunmen are said to be hiding in a four-story mall that they invaded on Saturday. The Kenyan Red Cross is saying at least 62 people have been killed. That number was 68, then 69. It's been revised to 62. But the number of those wounded is as high as 200. The government there is saying two more attackers were killed in a fire fight with troops this morning and, if any hostages are still being held, officials are saying, quote, "very, very few." Again, that's a quote.

I want to make sure I get this to you. Three terrorists killed in the Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi, Kenya, the Kenyan Defense Forces announced on Twitter. Twitter has been a source for a lot of information that's been revealed by Kenyan authorities. Here's another quote from the Kenya defense force saying that "a few others have suffered injuries, 62 confirmed dead, more than 200 rescued now with 65 receiving treatment in various hospitals." That's coming to us from Nairobi, Kenya.

And Zain Verjee has been standing by live.

Zain, a lot of these developments are quick and seems to directly refute other statements but, from the scene, what are you hearing?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm hearing that there's no 100 percent visibility in the situation on the ground in Westgate Mall, that it's really difficult to be entirely certain that all of the pockets of the militants have been totally removed and that's kind of what the gunfire is all about and trying to clear it out, basically. It's unclear what the situation is, too, with the hostages. When I went to sleep last night the government said there are about ten. But all day long I've been trying to find out about 20 hostages and I'm not getting any answers. So it's unclear to me whether they are being treated up there. I'm told that's not the case, whether they are being debriefed or something else has happened or what. But the Kenyan military, the Kenyan government is saying that they were freed and rescued. So we're following that up. The smoke continues to rise. I smoke a short while ago to an official on the ground who said that that is coming from a fire fight at the grocery store. It's on more than one level. So I'm given to understand that it's on the second level -- Ashleigh? BANFIELD: Zain, is there anything more, like the scene that played out early with you, where while you were reporting the gunfire erupted and people began to run. There seemed to be a crush of people escaping the scene. Has everything been calm since then? Has there been more sporadic gunfire?

VERJEE: You know, it's weird. There's this ebb and flow of tension where the moment you feel relaxed and nothing has happened for a number of hours and all of a sudden, boom, something happened and you ratchet up again. No, that shooting has not happened to that extent again. We're in this holding pattern where a blackout of information. I'm not getting that much. The operations under way and they are trying to pin down the gunman and clear the place. I spoke to one eyewitness who said when she went in there, there was water, live wires, they were afraid that they would be electrocuted. They saw a lot of bodies, people with slit throats. So the scene within Westgate is horrifying, beyond appropriate description from some of the things that I've been hearing. And they are kind of waiting for the all clear from the Israelis and the Kenyans to go in and pick up what I'm understanding is dozens of bodies. So since we last talked, that's what's been happening. Just more information on the devastation inside and the horribly personal way in which people have died in this attack.

BANFIELD: So, Zain, I'm just looking at nightfall behind you. It's 11:37 here on the east coast of the United States. I'm not sure how many hours ahead of us you are. I'm guessing around 7:00 or 8:00. This would effectively make a third night, if there are any hostages still inside alive in this mall. And at the same time, hostages who have come out, those who escaped had some pretty specific reporting that they saw a woman or at least one woman involved as one of the attackers, and now that report is being mitigated somewhat. Can you clear that up?

VERJEE: I can't because these are conflicting reports that are happening in a situation like this. What I can tell you is that, from my reporting and the senior sources that I've spoken to on the ground, they identify that there were women there and there were -- there was, in particular, a white woman. Apparently there is CCTV footage of this that senior officials are reviewing, and then there was a press conference where the officials there said there were 10 to 15 gunmen, saying -- insisting that they were all men. So it's really not clear whether they were men dressed as women or what. So there's, again, a question mark being raised and I just got off the phone call with officials that say they are really looking closely at this.

BANFIELD: All right. Zain Verjee is keeping a close eye on this. As it gets darker there, it will likely be trickier to get a clear picture of what is going on. We'll stay on this as developments come to us, you'll be getting them live as well.

Thank you, Zain.

Obviously, a dangerous assignment for her as well.

BANFIELD: So why is this Somalia-based al Shabaab group targeting a mall in Kenya? And why does that relate to you here in America? Peter Bergen is going to join us. While it's complex, it's quite simple. It does matter in America. That's next.


BANFIELD: So as these images continue to pour in to that terrible mall in Kenya, we bring you other breaking news. This comes via Twitter from the Kenyan Defense Force as they say that 11 Kenyan Defense Forces have been injured in this gun battle with the terrorists inside the mall. Also, in the last 24 hours they say they've been able to retrieve 10 bodies from the building, which is significant because so many people wonder if their loved ones were inside, were dead, or had escaped, weren't getting any information. And clearly, if they were hostages or bodies, there was no way of knowing which they were. So obviously they have been able to get some of the bodies out of this, maybe ten families have now had that very sad clarification.

At the same time this attack in Kenya by al Shabaab is raising a lot of questions, including who are they, who is al Shabaab and why attack a mall in the middle of Nairobi? What does that mean? What do they want? But perhaps a bigger question for you, should Americans be concerned about it? And the answer is a resounding yes.

CNN's Jim Sciutto tells us why.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We could look at this as the disturbing debut on the international stage of a new international terrorist threat. Al Shabaab has been around a number of years but has not carried out an attack in this scale outside of Somalia's borders. Recently, African Union Forces, including forces from Kenya, have had success pushing al Shabaab out of many of its strongholds. This can be seen as a comeback but also as a sign to expand beyond Somalia's borders. It has ties to al Qaeda. You can look at it as an al Qaeda-affiliate, in fact, through the similar brutality, but also a focus on spectacular attacks like this one. And there had been a focus within al Shabaab on whether to focus their resources, their attacks inside the country or outside the country and this attack in Kenya would seem to indicate that that latter group is in the descendency. Of special concern to the U.S., al Shabaab has had success recruiting Americans from the Somalia-American community here in the U.S., by some measures, as many as 50, and some have carried out attacks, including suicide bombings. And while it may be unlikely that al Shabaab would have the capability to carry attacks inside the U.S., it could very well attack interests abroad.

Jim Sciutto, CNN, Washington.


BANFIELD: Jim, thank you for that.

For joining us now for more on al Shabaab and what it means and whether it will mean a lot more here in America is CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen.

Peter, for starters, so Americans understand this very, very clearly, as Kenya brought down the sledgehammer in Somalia on this terrorist group, it was almost like swatting the hornet's nest because now we've seen what it decided to do and it was like payback inside this Kenya Nairobi mall. The reason I lay that out is because I have to wonder if American foreign policy doesn't look at this and think perhaps it's better if these groups are local because then the hornets stay in the nest or close to the nest s that wrong?

PETER BERGEN, CNN ANALYST: You know, you could make that argument. On the other happened, Somalia was controlled by al Shabaab and they were recruiting Americans and training them and that's not a good outcome for the long term. al Shabaab has been dealt quite a bit of military defeats in the past and in a way this attack on the mall might be an attempt to show that they are still relevant because really on the battlefield the Kenyan military, African union with support from the United States, for instance, U.S. Navy SEALs on occasion has been pretty effective against al Shabaab.

BANFIELD: But wasn't that the issue -- Afghanistan was the proving ground and the training ground for al Qaeda and once the sledgehammer came down on Afghanistan, it became a worldwide effort. Is it perhaps easier to contain when it is in a base like one country, like Somalia, like Afghanistan?

BERGEN: You know, the pre- 9/11 Afghanistan was not a situation that would have been tolerable. After all, 19 of the hijackers trained in Afghanistan so those training camps don't exist anymore. Yes, the sledgehammer does come down and people disperse. But it is a sledgehammer. A lot of people get killed or eliminated or captured when these kinds of military operations take place.

But, Ashleigh, as I was watching that picture of the mall, it reminded me of the Mumbai attacks in that the attackers have actually set mattresses on fire in this mall and is reminiscent of what the attackers did in Mumbai when they set the hotels that they were holed up in set them on fire. It's a way of creating greater confusion and they target areas where westerners are congregating, multiple gunmen and taking hostages to spin this out for as long as possible.

BANFIELD: It's a great point. It makes you think there are people on the outside with them saying, you know what, we are not seeing pictures harrowing as they need to be. Perhaps send out a bigger smoke signal. It can only make you wonder what the cause of that was.

Peter Bergen, I hope you stay around for the rest of the day as things continue to develop in Nairobi. Thank you for your insight.

BERGEN: Thanks.

BANFIELD: I want to turn to something very domestic and very important and very much going to affect you -- Capitol Hill. It looks sunny and lovely, doesn't it? But a week from now, that place could shut down, effectively. The U.S. Senate is going to convene today. Are they going to accomplish anything? Anything? Anything? Next, Capitol Hill, live.


BANFIELD: Lawmakers have exactly one week from today to come up with a spending plan or else it all closes down. Government shuts down. The deadline is September 30th. And if Congress comes up empty, the shutdown starts October 1st. The House did pass a plan last week. But the catch is, it would stop all funding for Obamacare. And the Senate, yep, snowball's chance in a devil's den that gets past it.

We're live at Capitol Hill with Dana Bash.

Where do we go from here?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's really up in the air. In large part, it depends on what the chief opponents of Obamacare, in fact the people who really force this, Ted Cruz, the Republican Senator from Texas, and his colleagues, force linking defunding Obamacare with this spending bill would do.

I can give you the options. I just said, we have one week between now and September 30th when the government runs out of money. The day before, the 29th, which is Sunday, Senate sources say it is possible that they are going to have to go through procedural machinations that will lead them as close as possible to that deadline, to Sunday the 29th. And then, remember that game when you were a grade school person, hot potato. Then the hot potato goes back to the House and it depends on what the Republicans, led by the House, will do. It's possible it could happen before Sunday. But it's unclear. It's really unclear. At that point, you're going to talk -- look at House Republicans and say, are you just going to pass this spending bill as is without the defunding Obamacare or send it back to the Senate? And that is a big question that we'll answer whether or not the government shuts down, whether or not they're going to keep going back and forth and hit that deadline.

I can tell you that is the big question, will the government shut down. Republican leaders after this point say that's not a workable option. They're going to do whatever they can to avoid it. As we've seen Ashleigh, they haven't had complete control over the rank and file.

BANFIELD: Dana Bash, the midnight shift on the 29th and 30th. Whatever day that is. You'll be working late.

BASH: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Thank you, Dana Bash, reporting live from the Hill.

We'll go back to Nairobi for an update in a moment. Stay with us.


BANFIELD: Want to update our top story right now. Three terrorists involved in that Nairobi shopping mall attack have been killed. That's today's number. They've been able to retrieve ten bodies from the west gate shopping mall. Ten suspects have been arrested in connection with this seasoning. This coming three days after al Shabaab terrorists killed at least 62 people. It's nightfall there, which means they're entering their third night if there's anyone still left inside.

Children and choir members among 81 people killed in a suicide bombing, in fact a twin bombing at a historic church in Pakistan. Two bombers blew themselves up at the All Saints Church in northwestern part of the city. Real tragedy there.

Thanks so much for watching our developing stories today. Thanks very much.

And AROUND THE WORLD gets under way after this short break.