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NEWS STREAM

Siege In Nairobi Mall Continues; Rise and Fall of Bo Xilai; Iranians Hopeful For Normalized Relations With U.S.; Angela Merkel Remains Chancellor

Aired September 23, 2013 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: I'm Michael Holmes at the CNN Center. Welcome to News Stream.

We continue to cover developments in Nairobi, Kenya. You can see there are live picture on your screen as the smoke continues to billow from the Westgate mall where that siege by militants is now in its third day.

The government says it is in control of all floors. We heard that at a news conference just a short time ago. About as you can see for yourself, that black smoke continues to billow from the complex. It has done now for more than an hour.

Earlier, gunshots also heard. Kenyan security officials have said the gunmen could be holding some 10 hostages or so. The numbers, though, very sketchy, as you can imagine. It's not clear at all exactly how many are being held, or how many of the attackers are still active inside the mall.

The Somali terror group al Shabaab is of course claimed responsibility for the attack, which began on Saturday. As many as up to 15 gunmen began mowing down shoppers and workers at the mall. The death toll so far at least 69, 175 wounded.

Kenyan authorities did give an update on the situation a short time ago. I want to bring you some of that.

Here's what the interior cabinet secretary had to say, or part of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH OLE LENKU, KENYAN INTERIOR CABINET SECRETARY: The terrorists could be running and hiding in some store somewhere or something. But all floors now are under our control.

I also confirm that we fully -- we have fully cordoned the building so that there's no room for escapees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (OFF MIKE)

LENKU: No. I am giving this information as the correct position that we are in charge of the floors and we think the operation will come to an end soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Let's take you to Nairobi now. And Nima Elbagir is near the Westgate mall. Nima, we heard what the government spokesman had to say that it should come to an end soon, but it doesn't look like it yet.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have been being told by the Kenyan government that it's going to be coming to an end soon for the last 12 hours. But it does feel like what's been going on with this operation is that the need has been for it to be just so painstakingly precise that's why it's taken so, so long.

If you could imagine coming in to that situation, not really knowing - - I mean, they say they have some sort of eyes -- we don't want to get into too much detail about what we believe those eyes are, because the operation is, of course, still ongoing -- but they do have eyes in there.

But you can't really know what's coming at you from every single corner. And when you walk in, whether or not it's true that the hostage takers are hemmed in to certain parts of that building, you are still approaching them.

And as we see behind us from those thick clouds of smoke the hostage takers are still (inaudible) to have some sort of mobility, because they were able to light mattresses on fire on the roof of the Westgate shopping center as a diversion.

But the cabinet secretary is really keen to emphasize this has taken awhile, because they've wanted to do it right. And they have been able to get more hostages out. They believe that they're almost there in terms of getting those final hostages out.

We can only imagine what that scene is like inside, Michael. The hostage -- some of those who were able to flee later on in this standoff describe just scenes of utter horror -- bodies stacking up, debris. And when you think about the fact that this during a children's cooking competition that these men stormed, you can't -- I can't even imagine what it was like when those men came in shooting, Michael.

HOLMES: One imagines in pure terms of a military operation, a security operation. I mean you've got a mall there. Tell us a little bit about it. It is a huge place. And one imagines endless hiding places.

ELBAGIR: Well, lots of stairwells, lots of fire exits, all the things that make a mall health and safety appropriate. Really, really unfortunate when you're trying to fund down attackers.

You've also got the reality of the fact that they came in after the situation had started. So it took them awhile to get their bearings, to get a sense of what was going on.

But of course we understand that they are being advised by Israeli forces. And they are -- Israeli forces are definitely amongst the most experienced in the world at -- and definitely see it as an area in which they excel in terms of bringing to an end hostage situations.

So the Kenyan authorities -- they're working with their Kenyan counterparts in there to bring this situation to a resolution.

But from a military perspective, we've seen a lot of what you would expect in this kind of situation -- low flying military helicopters creating white noise to distract the attackers inside so that they're able to move people around.

But what's complicated this further is the reality, the need to give triage, to give first aid as soon as people are evacuated and out of that Building. So the compound immediately surrounding the Westgate, while it has security, intelligence and military personnel, also has doctors, Red Cross volunteers, nurses, and that only adds to the volatility and the unpredictability of the situation. And you're trying to protect the civilians inside and those working to help you outside the building at the same time, Michael.

HOLMES: I think one of the most terrifying aspects of all of this is that those attackers, al Shabaab have said they don't want negotiations. They have nothing to talk about. Then what is it that they do want? It's difficult to see their end game here.

ELBAGIR: Well, we're seeing a lot of similarities to the Mumbai attacks. They don't want to be...

HOLMES: All right, let's talk a little bit more about that, get a little bit more about al Shabaab and its operations. I think we've got Nic Robertson standing by in London.

Nic, the operation to end this siege ongoing. We're getting new details there about what's going on inside the building from the government. Tell us about al Shabaab, and as I was saying to Nima there, trying to get the point there. If they don't want negotiations, what do they want?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And I think Nima was drawing the parallel with the Mumbai attack, an al Qaeda related group there in 2008 that did the same thing. They want publicity. So they -- this isn't an attack that's bang and it's all over, this is drawn out through hostage taking. But ultimately they'll spend all their ammunition and lose their lives. Al Qaeda operations often are undertaken by people who are prepared to -- prepared essentially to commit suicide in the final battle, which means that search for hostages is made so much harder, because the people who are holding them will as easily execute a hostage as stand there and take all the bullets into themselves at the same time. So that makes this very, very difficult.

And those are the similarities with the Mumbai attack that Nima was talking about. There weren't hostages in the final scenario there, but what there was in Mumbai -- and there are indications there may be in this shopping mall -- is the prepositioning of explosives and of weapons which gives the attackers an upper hand in as much as they have a lot more firepower at their disposal than they initially walked in with, more than you could carry in your hands.

And again that will be on the minds of the authorities as they're trying to get in there.

We are getting word of the nationality of one of the people who was killed in the initial stages of that attack, this is coming from the Dutch foreign ministry. We're learning that a Dutch woman, a 33-year-old Dutch woman was among those many people who died, Michael.

HOLMES: Nic, I know you've been looking into this and have followed al Shabaab and its movements for many years. The foreign recruit angle to this, what more have we learned about that? And how active is al Shabaab when it comes to recruiting internationally?

ROBERTSON: Al Shabaab have been very effective at recruiting internationally. They've certainly been able to draw from the Somali communities in the United States, from Britain, from other countries as well; also from the sort of East African diaspora. They've been particularly good at recruiting them.

What has changed for al Shabaab over the past few years, not just joining up to al Qaeda, but also they've been really, some people would say, the group has been hijacked by a more radical leadership that is kind of disposed, moved to the side of some of the more moderate elements and that the organization has really become more hardcore. And we may be seeing a vestige of that right now in the attack on this mall, a step up in al Shabaab's capabilities and gameplanning, if you will -- what they're capable of and what they're willing to take on.

But the indications are from intelligence authorities, number one that the foreign recruits have been attracted to Somalia, upwards of 40 Americans, up to upwards of 100 British residents have been attracted there as well -- is that the intelligence authorities have a good idea of who they are. They're being watched, if you will, at least the borders of the countries where they might be come back to are being watched.

The other thing on this as well is this radicalization of al Shabaab in recent months, over the past year or so, has led intelligence agencies believe, to fewer international recruits, but it does leave them with a big potential pool who were attracted let's say two or three years ago, Michael.

HOLMES: Yeah, and Nic I'll get you to stand by. We've got Nima back in Nairobi. Let's go back to you, Nima.

You know, we're talking with Nic there about the al Shabaab organization as it is. Now you've covered them up close and personal for a long time. And I'm curious, give people some context here about the answer to the question why Kenya.

ELBAGIR: Well, avowedly al Shabaab would tell you that this is because Kenya is part of the African Union force that's pushed al Shabaab out of the urban centers that's cropping up are quite shaky, but increasingly more internationally palatable Somali government and that they blame the Kenyans for going back into retreat out of the urban centers. But really this is as much a calling card for a resurgent al Shabaab as it is about any kind of geopolitical objective.

When we were back in Somalia in May, and I know we spoke then, Michael, you really got a sense of optimism in Somali. We felt like al Shabaab had been pushed back. They were in disarray. They were disunited months and years of squabbling and disagreements over who the leader should be, had really squandered whatever capital al Shabaab had with the Somali people.

In addition to the horrific stance that they took during the Somali famine, when they refused to allow aid into the areas under their control. It was just utterly horrifying. We were watching Somalis carrying their malnourished children, walking for miles, to get the capital Mogadishu, because al Shabaab wouldn't allow any western aid organizations into the Somali capital. And they really haven't recovered in terms of their standing within the Somali community in Somalia from that.

But what they have been doing more recently is they've been regrouping, they've been reenergized. And their proximity to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula just across the Red Sea, which is seen to be one of the strongest al Qaeda franchises, that's working for them. And the international al Qaeda network is really feeling the pinch of not having that territorial footprint in Somalia that they did when al Shabaab was more in control.

So this is really -- it has a very similar intent as the Mumbai attacks. It's the shock to awe and to also show we're here. You know, we are people that you should be taking into consideration next time you come after us on home turf, Michael.

HOLMES: And, you know, Nic was mentioning earlier about the international recruits, many of them Somali, but in other countries. Tell me what is the sales pitch that al Shabaab would use to people who have escaped Somalia are living in western countries like the United States, apparently Canada, the UK and the like. What is their sales pitch to these young men?

ELBAGIR: Well, if you speak to people in Britain, for example, where they are very open about their concerns over the recruitment policies of al Shabaab on home turf. They actually -- the British government actually carried out a study to really look into the root causes of why al Shabaab were able to recruit young men in the heart of London, within the bright lights of London. And really the message that they were receiving form those who were willing to speak to them in the Somali community there, disenfranchisement, a sense of complete lack of belonging.

And of course we are not making excuses, but just trying to give you a small sense of what it feels like when you've been moved out of your society, many of these people have come as refugees. They're finding it very difficult to fit in. They're finding it very difficult to find opportunities in these countries.

And then someone comes along and says to you, I'm going to tell you exactly what you need to do with your life. I'm going to tell you that you actually have a higher calling. And it's those kind of self-aggrandizing statements that we see in pretty much every single recruitment video that I've seen, you know, talking about Somalia when they're targeting U.S. youth and saying, oh, it's like Disneyland. It's the most amazing thing you'll ever see.

But actually, guess what, you're actually better than all those people you are living -- you know, queuing in Disneyland, because you get to come here and you get to be a warrior for god.

You can imagine that a statement like that is incredibly intoxicating to young men struggling to find their way in the countries that they found themselves in, Michael.

HOLMES: I think one of the other terrifying -- among the many terrifying aspects to all of this is the targeting here. I mean, this is the definition of a soft target, a shopping mall in a major capital city. Why that target? And why the people that they've taken -- basically they've gone in and said anyone who is not a Muslim we're going to kill you or hold you hostage.

ELBAGIR: Well, you know, Westgate mall is one of the places where you just come on a Saturday, and that's no secret here. There are few places that have a certain quality of food, of atmosphere, it's where you would see your friends. It's actually just on the border towards the part of Nairobi where you have the United Nations mission. It's near (inaudible) where a lot of the embassies have their residents, a lot of the expatriate community, but also wealth Kenyans. This is the place -- it's a cliche, but this is a place where people come to see and be seen. And have fun.

It was also a soft target, as you said. There were warnings as far back as in mid-August that Westgate would be targeted, that there was intelligence, pretty credible intelligence that militants were looking to take out targets in quite a spectacular, splashing fashion and that Westgate was one of those on the list.

And as we were saying earlier, what made this, what took this even further into the realm of just something out of your nightmares is the fact that this was the day that they had been advertising a children's cooking competition. This was a day when chefs from five star hotels here had come to -- you know, this is the equivalent of Junior Master Chef in the UK or Australia. These kids were learning to have fun. There was a very famous, bubbly radio host here who sadly was among the first to lose her lives, who was hosting this.

This had been billed as the day to bring your family if you wanted to have a fun day out. And this was the day that the militants chose to strike for maximum impact, Michael.

HOLMES: Unimaginable what they must have gone through in there.

Nima, thanks so much. Nima Elbagir there on the spot for us in Nairobi. Also, Nic Robertson with this analysis in London.

We're going to take a short break here on News Stream. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Continuing to cover the breaking news all these hours after it began. It began on Saturday. It is now Monday. We still have that extraordinary scene continuing to unfold in the shopping mall in Nairobi. The smoke you see there on your screen coming from the mall we were told earlier by government officials that it was a fire set by the terrorists who were inside there, perhaps as a distraction to the security operation that is ongoing.

There are a number of hostages, we believe, still being held. How many officials don't know. The original number of attackers anywhere between 10 to 15. We do know that three of them have been killed so far. We do not know the status of the others.

As we were saying before the break, one of the difficulties here is that this is a group, al Shabaab, who do not want to negotiate. They have nothing to say.

Let's go back to Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong -- Kristie.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: All right, Michael Holmes there, thank you very much indeed.

To other news this day, the German chancellor Angela Merkel, she has won a third term with a resounding victory in national elections.

Now the vote is a sign that the German's broadly endorse her handling of the EuroZone crisis. And still, her conservative party failed to secure an outright majority.

Now the final results are not in yet, but here is the breakdown of the vote.

Now Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and the Allied Christian Social Union received 41.5 percent of the vote. It has two seats shy of a supermajority which would have allowed the bloc to govern alone.

Now Ms. Merkel, she can not turn to her previous coalition partner, the Free Democrats. They appear to have fallen short of the 5 percent of the vote needed to enter parliament.

So who will Mrs. Merkel turn to?

Now Fred Pleitgen, he joins me now live from Berlin. And Fred, how will this coalition likely take shape?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kristie.

Yeah, absolutely. On the day after the election, of course it's time for analysis and it's time for coalition building in the tradition of German politics.

The first partner apparently -- or potential partner that Angela Merkel apparently turned to. It was the Social Democratic Party. They had a presser earlier today where the head of that party Sigmar Gabriel said that Angela Merkel called him at 9:00 pm local time, but he didn't answer the phone. He didn't answer it until 11:00 pm. And said that the Christian Democrats are interested in possibly mapping out a grand coalition.

These are of course the two biggest parties here in Germany, the so- called (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) or people's parties, which usually have a lot of the vote amongst each other. And so they're going to be looking at possibly entering into a coalition.

One of the things that's going to happen before that is that the Social Democrats who of course have been quite a disappointing showing in this election are going to have a party convention that's going to happen here on Friday and after that they say they would be open to going into negotiations about a coalition.

The other party that could potentially be in the mix -- and Angela Merkel didn't outright say this -- but certainly said that she was open to talking to several other parties is the Green Party. The Green Party is an interesting one, because both the Christian Democrats and the Greens have always said they're not made for each other, however, there are a lot of people here in Germany who think conservatively, but still have an ecological agenda.

So there's many people who believe that it might actually be quite a good coalition. We'll wait and see in the coming days.

But of course, one of the big headlines, as you said here, is the Liberal Democrats, the Free Democrats, out of parliament, therefore no longer able to enter into a coalition with Angela Merkel. The first time in post World War II Germany that that's the case. And that really is a big thing here for this country, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Yeah, a stunning loss for the Liberal Democrats. And we're going to see some pretty difficult coalition negotiations and talks ahead. And whatever form the coalition takes, what will it mean for Europe?

PLEITGEN: That's a very good question.

You know, in the short and medium term, I don't think that it's going to change very much as far as the handling of the EuroZone crisis is concerned.

Both parties came out today. Both Angela Merkel for the Christian Democrats as well as the Social Democrats and said that if they enter into coalition negotiations there's not going to be any preconditions.

Certainly there were certain things that both countries did disagree on as far as handling the EuroZone crisis. The Social Democrats said that they wanted to make it easier for southern European countries that are in difficulties to get money from bailout funds. And of course primarily are funded by the German government.

The Christian Democrats with Angela Merkel said that they are going to remain tough. They are going to demand austerity measures. Of course, it's something that's of utmost importance at this point in time as it looks as though Greece might need another bailout.

The other thing where these two parties differ -- I wouldn't say greatly, but to a certain extent, is that the Social Democrats are in favor of Euro bonds, which is essentially pooling Europe's debt and issuing common European debt bonds. That's something that the Germans don't want to do. They believe that it goes against European laws, against European treaties. And they also feel that it wouldn't be good for Germany.

So those are two things.

In the end, however, the Social Democrats are going to be a more difficult coalition partner than the Liberal Democrats, simply because they're stronger. And they also need to create more of a profile for themselves than they have in the past four years. So look for them to tease the chancellor, if you will, on certain occasions.

But Angela Merkel can always fall back on the fact that her party did not only get the most votes, but she was clearly voted by a popular mandate, she's by far the most popular politician and really at the height of her popularity at this point in time, and that's going to make it very difficult for any other party or any other coalition partner to change the course of European politics. So I expect it to stay pretty much the same as it was before, Kristie.

LU STOUT: You're right. It's a huge victory for her, a big mandate from Merkel. Fred Pleitgen joining us live from Berlin, thank you.

Now children are among the victims of a suicide attack at a church service in Pakistan. The two bombers blew themselves up at a Protestant church in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Sunday. Now they struck just as the service was ending.

Some 81 people were killed, more than 100 were injured. It's being called one of the deadliest attacks ever in Pakistan's minority Christian community.

Now a breakaway crew of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility. They say that they will continue targeting non-Muslims until U.S. drone strikes stop.

Let's get more now from Saima Mohsin. She joins us live from Islamabad. And Saima, today there was mourning for the victims of the church attack as well as protests. What can you tell us.

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kristie, mourning as funerals took place of many of those killed in this bomb attack as you just mentioned, many of them women and children, choir members, Sunday school students who were going to their church service on a Sunday as they would any given Sunday as people do right across the world when those two suicide bombers struck.

Now this is one of the deadliest, if not the deadliest attack against both the church and the Christian community in Pakistan. Certainly Human Rights Watch says it believes this is the deadliest attack against the Christian community here.

Now, that has resulted in protests around the country as people come out not just because they're emotional, but they are angered too. They want to see that the state can protect them, but they see a continual failure -- not just the Christian community, Kristie, but also the (inaudible) community, the Shia minority groups, many minority groups that have been targeted in escalating violence in Pakistan over the last few years, are demanding their right to protection from the state -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: They're demanding that right for protection. Again, you said that this was the deadliest attack ever against Christians in Pakistan. They want more security. They want better protection. Will they get it?

MOHSIN: That's the big question. Successive government's here have clearly failed to provide protection for any Pakistani public. We've seen bombings right across the country not just against minority groups, but any average Pakistani out there on the streets could face the potential bombing, targeted assassination, a shooting. Violence is on the rise in Pakistan.

And so there is a huge call.

Now with the change of government, demanding what is going to happen.

Just a few moments ago, the new interior minister with this change of government has been given an address to Parliament. He's reassuring everyone that he is coming up with a new security plan, that the government is keeping their eye on this. And certainly Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came out with a strongly worded statement declaring the terrorists who carried out this attack as non-Muslims, saying that this is against the teachings of Islam, if indeed that is the justification being used by any terrorist group.

That certainly stronger words than we've seen in the past by any politician or official, and certainly a prime minister in Pakistan.

But, as you say, it's action that people want to see. They want to see more police on their streets. They want to see more protection. And they want to see terrorist groups dealt with decisively. But this government already three or four months in to their tenure has failed to come up with a security plan, which they had promised throughout their election campaign -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: Again, 81 people killed in this terror attack. Just a terrible toll there. Saima Mohsin joining us live from Islamabad, thank you.

You're watching News Stream. And straight ahead this hour, the standoff continues at the besieged shopping center in Nairobi. We'll give you the very latest on the operation on all the efforts to free the last hostages taken captive by al Shabaab militants. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Continuing our coverage of the hostage standoff at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

Now there was an explosion, gunshots also heard from the mall in the last hour or so where the terrorists are in a standoff with security forces. From what we understand, and a lot of it is guess work at the moment, but from what government officials in Kenya are leading us to believe, about 10 people are still being held hostage in a situation that has seen 69 people killed, 175 wounded.

Let's take you to Nairobi now. Nima Elbagir is near Westgate Mall.

Nima, for those just joining, just bring us up to date on what's happened in the last hour or so.

ELBAGIR: Well, the latest we've received, Michael, from Kenyan authorities is that two of the hostage takers have now been killed in the ongoing operation to free the remaining hostages.

The Kenyan authorities say that they are in control of pretty much all of the building, but that the hostage takers are hemmed in to certain parts of that shopping center, but the smoke billowing behind me would lead you to be slightly concerned that the Kenyan government is actually fully in control of the building, because the Kenyan government admits that they were able to get up to the roof and light mattresses on fire as a diversion when the operation began.

What's been really interesting, actually, is some of the detail that's emerging about the nationalities of the attackers. Al Shabaab had tweeted out on one of their accounts, a number of different nationalities for the attackers, some of course Somali, but some appearing to be of Somali origin, but three with American citizenship, with American nationality, al Shabaab claim, one Finnish, one British, and one Canadian.

Now the Kenyan cabinet secretary has confirmed that there are multiple nationalities, that the attackers came from multiple nationalities. He wouldn't go into the details of those nationalities, but he did say he believes Kenya is fighting a global terrorism.

They have also beefed up security at airports, at ports, at border crossing centers. There is a real concern that they need to try and limit this. That while all of the assets of the state are focused on solving this, that they might be perceived to be weak. And they absolutely don't want to leave anything to chance here, Michael.

HOLMES: Yeah, talk a little bit about what the mood has been there in Nairobi, a place you know well. One imagines that despite Kenya's involvement in the military operations in Somalia, that -- do people in Nairobi feel they were, I don't know, separated from violence like this? How much of a shock has this been for the capital?

ELBAGIR: Well, Kenya only really went into Somalia after quite a few incidents here on home soil from al Shabaab and al Shabaab linked militants, not just Somalis but also Kenyans who joined up with al Shabaab from the coast and from other areas in Kenya. And it was having a massive impact on people's livelihoods.

Lamu, one of the most beautiful, one of the most historic tourist sites in Kenya, actually was one of the places that Princess Grace of Monaco used to come, that at some points was an absolute desert, there were no tourists there, resorts were having to close early.

So people were broadly in support with Kenya going in. And they remember what it was like when they felt under threat here.

It's -- this isn't new to them to feel this sense of lack of safety, the sense of discomfort in their homes.

What is horrifyingly new is the scale of this. This, as a hostage situation, many people believe that this is something that hasn't been seen here ever. It really, in terms of the impact it's having on Kenya's national psyche, you'd have to go all the way back to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings that struck here in Tanzania, that was of course al Qaeda.

The mood -- I'd say the mood has been pretty defiant. Following social media, one of the phrases they're trying to get to trend, Michael is, we are winning, hashtag #wearewinning.

There is a real sense that this is a time for Kenya to come together, this is the time to prove those who wanted to show the country that it was weak that actually it's much stronger than even the Kenyans themselves believe. And we've seen that in the queues at the blood donation banks. We've seen that in the way that this tragedy has impacted Kenyans all the way up to the president himself who lost his nephew and his nephew's fiancee.

And even in spite of that, the message the President Kenyatta has been sending out to Kenyans, not only are we strong, that we are united, but also that we mustn't let this divide us, that there is a Muslim community here in Kenya. It must remain within Kenya. And that we are a multi- cultural, multi-religious society here. And so far that message seems to be being heard, Michael.

HOLMES: And give us the benefit of your experience covering Somalia and looking at al Shabaab for some time. What is the strength of their international reach?

ELBAGIR: Well, al Shabaab has always been better at appearing bigger than actually in many instances being strong militarily. I would say militarily their heyday as a fighting force on a battlefield was when they were fighting against Ethiopia coming in in early I think it was 2008, roughly four or five years ago. That was when you really had an al Shabaab presence on the battlefield, an experienced soldiers, experienced fighters that had come over form Afghanistan, from Iraq, to really bolster the experience of these Somali fighters themselves.

Since then, they really were treated to these irregular tactics, Guerrilla Warfare, suicide bombs, and even that, when we were back there in May, you still saw them maybe one or two a week, but for the Somalia that I've been covering for all these years, that was unheard of, to only have one or two suicide attacks per week, it felt like there was a real, you know, there was a new wind blowing through Mogadishu, people were going out to the beaches, there's even a five star, five dining restaurant that had opened up sadly that's since been targeted in the last few weeks. And it's targeting gives you a sense of how al Shabaab is seeking to unify and how much al Shabaab has been resurgent in the last few days and weeks and how much of a threat it's been not just in Mogadishu, how much of a threat it poses as we're seeing here today for the broader region, Michael.

HOLMES: Nima, appreciate that. Getting the benefit of your wide experience with that region. And that organization, thanks so much, Nima Elbagir there on the spot for us in Nairobi.

Now remember, this has gone on longer than the 2008 Mumbai attack. This started on Saturday as many as 15 al Shabaab gunmen storming the mall.

Well, CNN security contributor Fran Townsend spoke to CNN USA just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This has the remnants of Mumbai, where you have small teams that go in with what we call light arms, guns, not sophisticated weapons. But they're trained, and they understand who you to go into a situation, take control of it. And, of course, their goal is not sort of to trade when we think in a western sense of hostages. What they're looking for is a platform. So it explains why the Kenyan government wants to take that platform away from them and bring there to a quick end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Let's talk a little bit more about al Shabaab and its operation. Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joining us from London.

You know, Nic, the siege, of course, ongoing, getting some details as we said about the foreign recruits to al Shabaab involved in the attack. Tell us -- tell us about what we know about these so-called foreigners, many of them or all of them for all we know, of Somali origin. Why would they be attracted to al Shabaab?

ROBERTSON: Part of the Somali expatriate community that have left the country through its times of warfare and distress either with their parents when they were very, very young, or perhaps are slightly older as teenagers. We have been told in the past that as many as 100 people living in Britain may have gone there, as many as 40 or perhaps more people living in the United States may have gone there as well, believed to have gone there by intelligence authorities.

And the attraction seems to be that they are not happy where they are in the United States, Britain or other European countries, that they're not -- they don't feel that they fit in. And the attraction, particularly to young men, that they can go and have this very exciting, dramatic life for some ideal that they didn't necessarily believe in before, but it is sold to them, if you will, preached to them in certain mosques by certain individuals and this is what's -- this is what's attracted them there.

This history of al Shabaab goes back many, many years, but really what we're seeing of them today has come about because of when Kenyan troops reacted to al Shabaab incursions into Kenya responded to that. And that really is the trigger for what we're seeing today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Inside Somalia, al Shabaab fighters attack Kenyan troops, known by their full name Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, the al Qaeda allied jihadists want control of Somalia.

In the Shabaab propaganda video, a wounded Kenyan soldier is captured. He is one of 4,000 Kenyan troops deployed to Somalia in 2011 to counter al Shabaab incursions into Kenya.

CNN cannot independently verify this video, but it is one in many in recent years that depict Shabaab's Somali battles. At their peak a few years ago, they controlled parts of the capital Mogadishu.

But not anymore. Today, a multinational African force of about 15,000 soldiers, including the Kenyans, controls the capital after al Shabaab was forced out.

Now, they loosely control swaths of southern Somalia all the way to the Kenyan border and vow attacks inside Kenya.

Al Shabaab's Kenyan ally, the Muslim Youth Center, known as MYC, echoes Shabaab's threats.

SHEIKH AHMAD IMAN ALI, LEADER OF MYC (through translator): Raise your sword against the enemy that is closest to you. Jihad should now be waged inside Kenya, which is legally a warzone.

ROBERTSON: And it's not an idle threat. MYC actively recruits young Kenyans to fight for al Shabaab. This mother's son, she says, radicalized in a Kenyan mosque.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Somalia, that's not his war. I don't even know why they are fighting. So why should he leave here and go fight in something he doesn't even understand?

ROBERTSON: Perhaps Shabaab's most well recognized recruit is this man, an American, Omar Shafik Hamami (ph) from Alabama. Known by his nom de guerre Abu Mansoor al-Amriki.

SHEIKH ABU MANSOOR AL-AMRIKI: So the only reason we're staying here away from our families, away from the cities, away from, you know, ice, candy bars, all these other things, is because we're waiting to meet with the enemy.

ROBERSTON: Hamami (ph) was killed recently in in-fighting. But as al Shabaab boasts, it has plenty of other American recruits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this first episode of the "Path to Paradise," we will look at the lives of some of the young Muslim men who traded the conflicts of their lives in the United States for the battlefields of jihad.

ROBERTSON: Like the American suicide bomber who blew himself up in an al Shabaab attack on Mogadishu airport.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Well, since 2010, intelligence officials around the world have been warning about the dangers of al Shabaab attracting international recruits. And in September that year, Jonathan Evans who is the head of MI- 5 at that time in the UK specifically said that those people fighting side- by-side with al Shabaab right now, 2010, could well be committing acts of terrorism on our streets, he said. This was just a few years ago, the warning coming out from intelligence authorities, they really were concerned that al Shabaab posed a threat to Britain, the United States, other European countries, Michael

HOLMES: One thing that almost a sidebar really, given the carnage at Westgate, but it's been curious to see the technology involved here. This has been sort of terror by tweet, almost bizarre to see regular updates coming from the organization about what they're doing.

ROBERTSON: This really speaks to the central point that al Shabaab want to achieve here, which is publicity, notoriety, to get their name known, so they're using all media platforms available to them.

The concept of the attack -- it's big, it's at a soft target. It's at a target that's well known that they know will attract interest. Beyond that, however, they've turned it into a siege, a hostage taking. It stretches out the whole event.

So this draws more attention over a period of days.

They have hostages. They know that will attract attention as well. And on top of that, they've been using Twitter, or appear at least to have been using Twitter, say that they're using Twitter accounts to feed out names of people they say are involved. They've put forward names of more than 10 young men, ages, where they've come from, indicating some from the United States, one from Britain, one from Finland, one from Canada, et cetera. But the list goes on.

Again, they're using this to try and gain publicity.

They've also been talking almost sort of giving a blow by blow account. Our weapons are hot. The lights have just gone out. Our brave attackers will be successful. All these sorts of propaganda type statements, even to the point of lifting weapons. None of this can be verified.

They were talking about using American weapons at one point. And we just don't know that.

But this is the kind of propaganda angle that al Shabaab is exploiting social media to get their message out as big, as wide as possible. They know they have a limited window. And they're trying to use it as best they can.

HOLMES: Yeah, Nic, yeah, the new world isn't it? Nic Robertson, thanks so much.

And let's talk a little bit more about tweeting and the like. Al Shabaab, as we were just discussing there, were taking credit for the Westgate mall attack on Twitter. We'll show you the account. It's at @HSM_Press. It is now suspended, as you can see.

But it's messages did offer some explanation for the assault. Again, as Nic says, we can't verify independently all of this. But let's tell you what a couple of them said.

One said, quote, "only infidels were singled out for this attack. All Muslims inside #Westgate were escorted out by the Mujahideen before beginning the attack."

Here's another one, too. Some insight here, quote, "for long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land. Now it is time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land."

And also this, the attack at #Westgate Mall is just a tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders."

And the Kenyan government of course also using its Twitter accounts to spread its message. About an hour ago, in fact, Kenyan police wrote, quote, "we urge the public to stay away from Westgate for their own safety as we intensify our operations to end this cruel act."

Still to come this hour, the Chinese politician Bo Xilai has learned his fate and faces a life behind bars. After the break, we'll take a look at the rise and fall of the former Communist Party heavyweight who is now going to appeal that sentence. Stay with us, we'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back.

As we continue to follow the developing situation in Kenya, the government says it is in control of the Westgate mall in Nairobi where terrorists took hostage on Saturday. But it is still unclear how many, indeed if any, hostage remain inside.

Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said most have been evacuated. He said that their forces control four floors of the mall. He said the mall had been sealed off to prevent any escape by the gunmen. He says the fire, which you see there, still burning, was set by the attackers to try to distract government forces.

The militant group al Shabaab has taken responsibility for this attack. At least 62 people killed since Saturday, 175 wounded.

Let's take it back now to Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: All right, Michael.

Now world leaders, they are gathering right now in New York for the start of the 68th session of the UN general assembly. Now there will certainly be a lot of them to discuss, including Syria's chemical weapons, the Middle East peace process, and the deadly siege that is unfolding right now in Kenya.

Now the UN general assembly will also hear from this man, Iran's new president. But even before he arrives, Hassan Rouhani has made a very public invitation to U.S. President Barack Obama on Twitter.

Now the cleric said this, quote, the Iranian nation is ready to have dialogue with the west provided that there is no precondition for talks and it's based on equal footing and mutual respect.

Mr. Rouhani says that official meeting with President Obama is not yet on the agenda, but he is not ruling it out.

Meanwhile, his apparent charm offensive, it maybe working both overseas and at home.

Now Reza Sayah has this report from Tehran.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In the streets of Tehran, something Iranians have long been craving.

SADEGH ZIBAKALAM, POLITICAL ANALYST: It's in the air. You could feel it.

SAYAH: Optimism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be honest with you, we have a lot of hope.

SAYAH: Anticipation that maybe, must maybe after more than three decades the U.S. and Iran will end their bitter rivalry.

Here's the man who sparked the optimism, Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani. In an unprecedented charm offensive, Rouhani has pushed for better relations with Washington, exchanged letters with President Obama, released 11 political prisoners, and tweeted Happy New Year to the world's Jewish population.

ZIBAKALAM: So far, he has done much more than we expected.

MOHAMMAD MARANDI, POLITICAL ANALYST: President Rouhani also has played his cards very well in the sense that he's using the right language at a very appropriate time.

SAYAH: And Iranians seem to like it.

"He's a good man," says Pariz (ph). "I'm happy with him."

I'm 99 percent sure things will be better," says Said Ali Akbar, "I can just feel it."

This is Tehran's famous bazaar. If you want to get the pulse of this country, this is where you come.

The Hayatis have been in business for six decades. The last time Iran and the U.S. had diplomatic relations, Ali (ph) wasn't even born.

ALI HAYATI, STORE OWNER: I want to see Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Obama sit in front of each other and speak about life.

SAYAH: The Medit House of Persian Carpets (ph) hope Rouhani is the key to ending decades of economic sanctions against Iran.

SADEGH KIYAEI, RETAILER: We believe that two nations, Iran and American, they realize that they need each other, they like each other, and they feel that it's the right time to get together and to start talking at least.

SAYAH: "100 percent, I want to see better relations so we can live a little easier," says barber Hassan Ahmadi (ph).

Not everyone at the barber shop is optimistic. Oshva (ph) says nothing has changed. She still plans to leave Iran so her son can have a better future.

"I want him to have a good education, a good life," she says. "I don't think you can get anywhere here in Iran."

but Omid (ph), who is one day away from the first day of school has other ideas.

"I want to stay. My friends are here," says Omid (ph), whose name in Farsi means hope.

(on camera): We've been pretty much talking to Iranians all day. And we only found one person who wasn't optimistic. Everyone else hopeful that Tehran and Washington can improve relations, but they're also realistic, that 34 years of mistrust isn't going to disappear overnight.

Reza Sayah, CNN, Tehran.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LU STUOT: An excellent report from inside Iran there. And you can hear from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani himself later this week right here on CNN. In fact, Christian Amanpour will sit down with him at the UN general assembly. It will be his first interview during that historic visit to the U.S. It's happening Thursday on CNN.

Now for now, stay tuned. We'll be back after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LU STOUT: All right, coming to you live from Hong Kong as well as CNN Center, you're back watching News Stream.

And now we turn to the verdict in the trial of Bo Xilai, a former rising star of China's Communist Party. And this just in, a source with direct knowledge of the case has told CNN that Bo Xilai has filed an appeal. Now the former high ranking Chinese Politician, he was found guilty of bribery, corruption and abuse of power on Sunday. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Now CNN's David McKenzie reminds us just how we got here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hand-cuffed and flanked by security, a judge sentenced Bo to life in prison, convicted for Bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

In a country where the party controls the court, a guilty verdict was never in question. Still, it's a spectacular downfall for Bo. Once a rising star of the Communist Party, a princeling, close to reaching the untouchable ranks of power, a charismatic leader of megacity Chongqing.

FRANK CHING, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & COLUMNIST: Bo Xilai was unique. I mean, he was not a Dao party hack the way I think 99 percent of party officials are.

MCKENZIE: But undone by a salacious scandal of murder, betrayal and corruption, stripped of his party credential and vanished from view, Bo resurfaced at his trial every bit the maverick politician he had been.

Gripped by transcripts released on social media, Chinese followed every twist and turn -- the villas in France, safes full of cash, the sordid soap opera of Communist Party elite and the violence that came with it.

"Bo verbally assaulted me, then grabbed my nose," says Bo's former Chongqing police chief. He told me to take back my word, then he came over and punched me.

Throughout the trial, Bo Xilai denied all the charges. He admitted some mistakes, but took little responsibility for a scandal that rocked the Community Party to its core.

For China's president Xi Jinping it's been a true test. Xi has made fighting corruption his priority. He needed to look firm against Bo to heal the rifts in the party and move on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LU STOUT: And let's go back to our Michael Holmes at CNN Center -- Michael.

HOLMES: Kristie, thanks. Fascinating report there by David McKenzie.

Now just before we go, a quick update on the situation on Nairobi, Kenya. We're continuing to watch as smoke billows from the besieged Westgate Mall. Kenyan forces say they have on Monday killed two of the terrorists who stormed the building on Saturday. Unclear at the moment if there are any hostages still inside. Of course, al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack. We'll have much more in the next hour. Do stay with us.

END