This Israeli ex-diplomat is Kenya’s biggest pop star


Zipping between meetings at Nairobi’s five-star hotels wearing a suit and tie, Gilad Millo looks every bit the ex-diplomat he is.

But looks can be deceiving: Though he may be balding and slightly pudgy, Millo is one of Kenya’s hottest pop stars.

He’s so popular, in fact, he’s known throughout the country simply as Gilad, a la Madonna or Prince.

“The word ‘celebrity’ feels strange, but, yeah, people now ask me to pose for selfies with them,” said Millo, the former deputy head of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Kenya, speaking to JTA by telephone from his home in Nairobi on Monday.

Millo made his musical debut in April with the song “Unajua” — “Do You Know” in Kiswahili, one of Kenya’s four official languages.

By May, “Unajua,” a mellow tune about the lingering attachment of ex-lovers, topped the weekly chart of X FM, a popular Kenyan radio station, and stayed on the top 10 lists of other stations for months. By August, the track received a rave review in the Daily Nation, one of Kenya’s largest newspapers.

In the video, Millo, an Ashkenazi Jew, walks with his bicycle and guitar around the Nairobi neighborhood where the song’s producer lives. A classier indoors set is used for the song’s guest artist: Wendy Kimani, a young Kenyan singer who rose to fame in 2008 as a finalist on the East African version of “American Idol.”

Kimani — who recently moved to Amsterdam, where she lives with her Dutch husband — concedes that Millo does not exactly possess the looks that Westerners would expect for an up-and-coming pop star. But in Kenya,“the masses are still quite rural, so they’re not so much into looks and fashion,” she said.

“For them it’s all about the music,” Kimani said. “If someone has the music, that’s all that they care about.”

Plus, the song topped the charts before the video was released — so few people knew Millo was what East Africans call “mzungu,” a white man.

“And even after, many couldn’t believe Gilad was really singing because few white people in Kenya speak Kiswahili,” Kimani said.

Music has always been a major part of Millo’s life. In his 20s, he was a member of a Jerusalem rock band, White Donkey. Millo was planning to become a professional musician rather than follow in the footsteps of his late father, Yehuda Millo, who served as a diplomat for 37 years.

But when Millo’s son was born, his wife, Hadas, said that “there’s no money in music and we need to find a real job,” Millo recalled in an interview that he gave last month to Israel’s Channel 2.

After working as a journalist, he became a diplomat in 2003. Millo served in Nairobi and Los Angeles before leaving Israel’s Foreign Ministry in 2008 and settling in Nairobi permanently.

“The connection with Kenya was instant,” Millo said. “I’ve never encountered a more open, generous people.”

It was only recently, a quiet afternoon when his wife and teenage kids were away, that Millo called up a music producer, M.G., whom he had met through a friend. Millo showed up at the studio with a song he wrote just “to see how it goes,” he recalled.

“We realized we had a hit the second we finished recording,” Millo said.

Thanks to “Unajua,” he has landed dozens of guest appearances on Kenyan radio and television shows. There he promotes his campaign about farming for the Balton CP Group – the British firm where Millo works as head of business development and public relations — which represents mostly Israeli agriculture and communications companies.

“After we establish that I’m white, that I sing in Kiswahili and that this place is home for me, there’s still 10 minutes of airtime, so the interviewers and I often go into other things that I’m passionate about,” Millo said.

Titled “Farming is Cool,” the campaign tries to appeal to the millions of young Africans who swapped their  now-aging rural communities in favor of the perceived opportunities of big metropolises like Nairobi and its suburbs and slums, where only a third of about 6 million residents have adequate sewage systems. The aim is to attract young people to more sustainable and advanced agriculture.  

Last month, Millo released his second single, “Sema Milele” (“Say Forever”), which the well-respected online magazine Afrika Nmbiu crowned as “the perfect wedding song.” He is working on a third single with a Kenyan artist, 22-year-old HK Gachago.

He may be big in Kenya now, but Millo says he’s not making money from his music — yet. Still, whatever income his musical career may generate, he hopes to donate.

In addition to hoping to help empower youth through farming, another cause is Israel for Africa, the nonprofit that Millo and his family established in memory of his father that promotes Israeli innovation and culture in Africa.

“Europeans and Americans don’t always get the connection that many Israelis have with Africans,” he said. “But we feel it instantly, every time we crack a joke or slap one another’s back.”

Gunmen kill 28 in northeast Kenya bus attack


Attackers ambushed a bus and killed 28 people early on Saturday in northeast Kenya, police and the Ministry of Interior said.

It was not immediately clear who the attackers were.

“Bandits ambushed a bus from Mandera that was heading to Nairobi at dawn and killed 28 passengers of the 60 that were in the bus,” the ministry said on its Twitter feed.

Police Spokesman Masoud Mwinyi confirmed the incident.

The government-run National Disaster Operations Centre said on its Twitter feed that the attack took place some 30 km from the town of Mandera.

Tensions have escalated in Mandera County, near the border with Ethiopia and Somalia, in the past year as clashes between clans have displaced hundreds of people.

The region is awash with guns due to its proximity to Somalia, where al Shabaab has been fighting to topple the government, and Ethiopia, from where the armed Oromo Liberation Front has made incursions into Kenya.

The attack underscores fears over the lack of security, especially in the remote parts of northern Kenya.

In early November, gunmen killed 20 police officers and two police reservists in an ambush in Turkana county in the northwest of Kenya.

Three hours in Africa’s largest slum


When fashioning their flying toilets, residents of the Nairobi neighborhood of Kibera prefer to use thick plastic bags. But to save money, area resident Wellington Nabwoba said, they’ll settle for a black garbage bag with a drawstring.

Kibera neighborhood lacks indoor plumbing and when night falls, gangs roam the area, making it unsafe to use the outhouses. With no other choice, Nabwoba said, Kiberans relieve themselves in plastic bags then throw them out the window the next morning: Flying toilets.

“We don’t have any protection here,” said Nabwoba, who runs a free school in Kibera. “Here the police can’t come. We have more criminals than they can handle.”

To walk through Kibera is to enter a world of almost surreal poverty. Reputedly Africa’s largest slum, it’s home to an estimated one million people, all of whom live in shanties whose corrugated roofs form a sea of metal sheets.

Basic municipal services many of us take for granted are nowhere to be found here: No roads, no electricity, no sidewalks, no signs. The only running water flows through a dirt gutter that snakes through almost every passageway before emptying into a ravine filled with trash, sewage and children playing.

Until I visited Kibera, I had only a sheltered foreigner’s view of Nairobi. On assignment to cover Israeli commercial and humanitarian efforts in Kenya, I stayed at a hotel for businessmen and traversed the city in taxis. Interviews took place at shiny malls, corporate compounds or at the lavish gated estates of rich businessmen whose security precautions would make Israelis blush.

The only security in Kibera, according to Nabwoba, comes from so-called “vigilant groups” armed with knives, machetes and the occasional gun. Each gang controls a district of the slum and reports to an “elder”who settles disputes and extracts tribute from the residents. If the residents can’t pay, the gangs are liable to steal their property.

On Tuesday, a group of elders sat chatting in a shanty next to a cooler filled with soft drinks. Stop by next time you visit, they said. Just don’t take our photo.

Outside the shanty is a wide dirt road lined with produce stands and small shops colored in bright graffiti advertising bread, a haircut or salvation from Jesus. Men pushing wheelbarrows or driving cheap motorbikes mix with unsupervised children whose parents can’t afford the roughly $1,200 annual fee for public school. A woman nurses her baby while selling fruit. On the side of the road, a man wielding an ax chops wood for kindling.

A few yards down, the road passes under a new highway. Goats and dogs climb up the side of the paved overpass intended to ease the unending traffic jam that is Nairobi.

In one shanty, bedsheets separate three tiny rooms that house six people — a relatively comfortable setup here. The owner is Vitalis Otieno, a pastor at a neighborhood church who lost his wife in childbirth more than a year ago. He has cared for his newborn twins with the help of a niece and with donations of formula from a wealthier Nairobian who supports humanitarian work in Kibera.

Smiling, Otieno says his own struggles help him empower his 60 congregants.

“If I say, ‘I’m never going to be a mother, so I can’t nurture these boys,’ who will do it?” he said. “I use my personal example.”

The new highway runs next to Otieno’s home. Leaving his shanty, we drove down the highway back toward the city center. Half an hour later, I was sitting in a cafe at an upscale mall, four miles and a world away from Kibera.

Between past and future: Israel, Africa and the Apartheid Canard


Israelis were not surprised by the terrorist attack by last month’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, killing 67 people. They had been on alert against such dangers since two attacks on Israeli targets in Mombasa in 2002. Indeed, there were reports that Israeli experts helped Kenyan forces deal with the Mall takeover.

There are signs of expanding Israel – Africa relations. During the past two years, more than 40 senior African dignitaries—including the presidents of Rwanda, Uganda, Togo, South Sudan, as well as the prime minister of Kenya—have visited Israel, with the Nigerian president expected soon.

The Israeli-African nexus is not a new story — its narrative not merely comprised of current shared struggles against terrorism.  Dating back to 1958, there is a famous picture of Israel’s then Foreign Minister Golda Meir—her sturdy pocketbook in hand — visiting Ghana, one year after that country became the first African nation to win independence and a mere ten years after the establishment of the fledgling Jewish state.

In some respects, the visit of the one-time Milwaukee housewife was prophecy fulfilled. In the 1890s, Edward Wilmot Blyden, pioneering founder of the African freedom movement, later led by led by W.E.B. Du Bois, Kwame Nkrumah, among others, lauded Theodor Herzl for launching “that marvelous movement called Zionism.” Herzl reciprocated in his novel, Altneuland (1902) envisaging “the return of Negroes” from their Diaspora to help liberate Africa.

By the early 1970s, 10 African states had embassies in Jerusalem, and Israel maintained relations with 32. After the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, Israel vociferously criticized South Africa’s apartheid regime, resulting in a temporary rupture of relations that had been established in 1948. An Israeli embassy was not opened in Pretoria until 1974. But then in wake of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, 21 Black African broke diplomatic relations with Israel. Then in 1975, just a month before the UN General Assembly passed the “Zionism equals racism” resolution, Uganda’s President Idi Amin spoke before the General Assembly calling for “the extinction of Israel.”

In 1976, during Operation Entebbe Kenyan government official Bruce McKenzie—subsequently assassinated on Amin’s orders—persuaded Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta to permit Israeli Mossad agents to gather information prior to the hostage rescue operation in Uganda, and to allow Israeli Air Force aircraft to refuel at aNairobi airport after the rescue.

Throughout the 80s, Israel’s focus shifted to Ethiopia’s Black Jews, known as the Falashas or Beta Israel, and their epic struggle to reach the Holy Land. With Operation Moses in 1984-1985 and Operation Solomon in 1991, Israel airlifted, respectively, 6,500 and over 14,000 Beta Israel into the Jewish state. Today, all remaining Jews from Ethiopia have resettled in Israel, struggling, as each immigrant grouphas, to make the transition into the mainstream of Israeli society. Meanwhile, there was the stormy drama of the small sect of self-identified, Black Hebrew Israelites who settled in the Negev town of Dimona. They were initially made into a metaphor by critics of Israel who portrayed the Jewish state as a racist society. While it took over twenty years to fully resolve tensions, today the Black Hebrews—including the first born in Israel who was killed by Palestinian terrorists during his Bar Mitzvah in 2002—have come to symbolize how anybody with commitment and persistence can make a future for themselves in Israel.

A third act in the Israel/Africa drama is the recent influx of African refugees into Israel. Authorities have been struggling to balance human rights and security and societal concerns,with mixed results. The Israeli Supreme Court recently ruled that these individuals cannot be detained indefinitely and then expelled. A solution to their plight remains a significant challenge for Israeli society.

So against the backdrop of historic affinity of African with Jewish freedom struggles, with expanding economic opportunities and continuing humanitarian interchange, the future course of Israel-African ties seems promising.

There remains however, a significant threat to those hopes; a threat based on a powerful lie: The canard that Israel is the apartheid heir to the deposed South African Apartheid regime. The Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) Movement was officially launched in 2005 declaring it was “inspired by the struggles of South Africans against Apartheid.” No one less than Archbishop Desmond Tutu supports this ‘big lie’ that debuted at the UN’s 2001 Conference Against Racism in Durban South Africa where NGOs made toxic attacks on the Jewish state its centerpiece.  Unfortunately, officials of today's South African government, continue to embrace the slander rhetorically and diplomatically, aligning not just with the Palestinian cause in general but especially with Hamas.

Which narrative will ultimately prevail? We should take heart from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stirring words:

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center

From Nairobi to Pakistan religicide rears its ugly head


The carnage at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, the homicide bombers massacre of worshipers at an historic church in Peshawar, deposed Muslim Brotherhood loyalists torch scores of Coptic churches in Egypt, a series of vicious attacks against Nigerian Christians and churches…

Nigeria’s Boko Haram, (recently described by US State Department merely as a group with grievances about Nigerian governance) through its murderous targeting of innocent Christians, served as a cruel prequel to the Kenyan and Pakistan attacks. All wars are hell, but we are now witnessing not only a quest for conquest but a campaign to destroy anyone whose path to G-d deviates from the pure theology of hate.

Last month, Boko Haram terrorists disguised as Nigerian soldiers set up roadblocks between the cities of Maiduguri and Damaturu. Motorists were stopped and asked their names. If Muslims, they were allowed to pass only after reciting a line from the Koran. On that day, 143 motorists were identified as Christians. They were dragged out and killed–their bodies dumped along the side of the road. Two days later, more Christians were murdered at a different location.

We know of no evidence directly linking the attacks in these countries.  But Kenya's chief of general staff, Julius Karangi was correct in describing Al-Shabaab terrorists as “a multinational collection from all over the world… We have also have an idea that this is not a local event.” Coordinated or not, these terrorists all selected their victims according to religion.  In Pakistan it was simple enough—attack the embattled Christian minority at the historic All-Saints Church. The Nairobi murdererstook the time to identify Muslims and let them exit the mall.

On November 2nd, 1943 Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, spoke at Berlin’s Luftwaffe Hall. Having met both Hitler and Himmler, he knew of what he spoke when he declared, “The Germans know how to get rid of the Jews.”

Little did anyone know that some of the Nazi techniques would be used 70 years later by al-Husseini’s heirs, jihadists who like the Nazis brazenly select who shall live, and who shall die.

Georges Clemenceau, one of the chief architects of Versailles said, “War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.”  The world has been slow to understand that for some Islamists, victory is defined not merely by conquering territory, but by destroying people—especially people of (another) faith. The Nazis called it extermination. We call it Religicide- but whatever the label, we must act to thwart this horrific trend.

To have any hope, the counterattack must be led by Muslims. After the latest outrages, an important condemnation was expressed by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “Those who have committed this heinous act have gone beyond basic principles of humanity…There is no cause that can justify the killing and maiming of young children, the elderly and the most innocent in society. This perverted mindset that sheds blood without regards to any humanity must be confronted and challenged by all of us,” its statement declared.

An important message – especially in light of the silence of religious leaders around the globe who failed to quickly and unequivocally expressed their outrage. It was diminished only by its depiction of these heinous crimes as “senseless violence.” Alas, the violence of the jihadists is anything but senseless, or simply uncontrolled barbarism.  It makes all too much sense to the demagogues who teach it to their followers. The platform of global jihadists includes religicide and genocide of anyone who prays and thinks differently than they.

Four hundred years ago, Rabbi Judah Loewe of Prague, known as the Maharal, puzzled over the biblical narrative of Cain and Abel, the earliest fratricide. As the curtain comes down, the good brother, Abel lies dead; his guilty brother Cain cops a suspended sentence. This sends a confusing message. Would it not have been better for good to triumph over evil, or at least for the murderer to have been brought to stricter justice? In answer, Maharal points to Abel’s name in the original Hebrew – hevel, which means vacuousness and emptiness.  Abel may have acted more properly than his brother, but his commitment to good was weak and flimsy, not firm and determined. Abel loses to Cain because good does not always win out over evil. Strong, resolute evil will beat outweak, irresolute good. It is a lesson that 21st century humankind would do well to ponder and internalize. 

If we don’t want to go the way of Abel, we better be prepared to take on Cain.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is Director of Interfaith Relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Kenya widens mall attack probe, alert for UK ‘White Widow’


Interpol issued a wanted persons alert at Kenya's request on Thursday for a British woman who has been cited by British police as a possible suspect in the attack on a Nairobi shopping mall that killed at least 72 people.

The alert was issued as Kenyan police broadened the investigation into the weekend raid by the al Qaeda-aligned Somali al Shabaab group, the worst such assault since the U.S. Embassy was bombed in the capital by al Qaeda in 1998.

Interpol – which has joined agencies from Britain, the United States, Israel and others in the Kenyan investigation of the wrecked mall – did not say when Nairobi requested a so-called “red alert” notice for Samantha Lewthwaite, 29.

The widow of one of the suicide bombers who attacked London's transport system in 2005 is believed to have evaded arrest two years ago in the port city of Mombasa, where she is wanted in connection with a plot to bomb hotels and restaurants.

Interpol's “red alert” cites the previous 2011 plot.

Police in Mombasa, a tourist hub, said they were also tracking four suspected militants, following the siege of the swanky Westgate mall in Nairobi which militants stormed on Saturday armed with assault rifles and grenades.

The mall attack has demonstrated the reach of al Shabaab beyond Somalia, where Kenyan troops have joined other African forces, driving the group out of major urban areas, although it still controls swathes of the countryside.

Al Shabaab stormed the mall to demand Kenya pull its troops out, which President Uhuru Kenyatta has ruled out.

Many details of the assault are unclear, including the identity of the attackers who officials said numbered about a dozen. Speculation that Lewthwaite, dubbed the “White Widow” in the British press, was triggered by witness accounts that one of raiders was a white woman.

FORENSIC WORK

But Kenya's government and Western officials have cautioned that they cannot confirm the reports she was involved, or even that there were any women participants in the raid.

The government said five of the attackers were killed, along with at least 61 civilians and six security personnel.

Eleven suspects have been arrested in relation to the attack, but it is not clear if any took part.

Although the Red Cross lists 71 missing people, the government said it does not expect a big rise in the death toll.

Part of the Westgate mall collapsed in the siege, burying some bodies and hindering investigations, although forensic experts have started work while soldiers search for explosives. Officials said some blasts on Thursday were controlled ones.

“The army are still in there with the forensic teams,” said one senior police officer near the mall.

Mombasa police said they were tracking a network of suspects linked to al Shabaab in the coastal region, home to many of Kenya's Muslims, who make up about 10 percent of the nation's 40 million people. Most Kenyans are Christians.

“We have four suspects within Mombasa who we are closely watching. They came back to the country after training in Somalia,” country police commander Robert Kitur told Reuters.

Another counter-terrorism officer, who asked not to be named, also said four suspects were being tracked and added that two well-armed suspected militants killed in an August operation could have been planning a similar attack in Mombasa.

“I will be surprised if they don't link the Nairobi attackers to those terrorists we killed in Mombasa,” he added.

DENTED IMAGE

The mall attack has dented Kenya's image as a tourist destination, damaging a vital source of revenues. But rating agency Moody's said that although the attack was “credit negative” it would not affect foreign direct investment or a planned Kenyan Eurobond later this year.

In 1998, al Qaeda bombed the U.S. Embassy, an attack that killed more than 200 people. Since then, Kenya has faced other smaller attacks, many claimed by al Shabaab, particularly along the border region next to Somalia.

On Thursday, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for killing two policemen in an assault on a administrative post in Mandera county next to Somalia. The border has been closed.

Experts say the insecure border has allowed Kenyan sympathizers of al Shabaab to cross into Somalia for training.

“They are coming back because our armed forces destroyed their training ground there,” said Kitur.

The coastal region also has been the target of attacks by a separatist movement, the Mombasa Republican Council, although that group has long denied it has connections with al Shabaab.

Additional reporting by James Macharia, Duncan Miriri, Richard Lough, Kevin Mwanza and Edmund Blair in Nairobi, Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa and Carolyn Cohn in London and Alexandria Sage in Paris; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Angus MacSwan

Netayahu offers condolences to Kenya as Nairobi mall crisis nears end


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta over the al-Qaida-linked terror attack on a mall in Nairobi.

“Israel empathizes with the Kenyan people’s pain and with your own personal loss due to the terror attack. We value your nation’s determined struggle against terrorism,” Netanyahu said in a phone conversation on Monday night, according to his office.

The call came as security forces at the upscale Westgate mall worked to secure the area, free hostages and apprehend the terrorists.

At least 62 people are known killed in the attack and siege which began on Saturday afternoon, though the death toll could rise once the siege is completely over.

An explosion and gunfire were heard in the mall at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Associated Press reported, despite Kenyan government reports that the crisis was over.

Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said that two to three Americans and a British citizen of Arab origin were among the gunmen.

The French news agency AFP reported that Israel agents were involved in the rescue operations, something that was neither confirmed nor denied by Israeli officials.

One Israeli was injured and three others escaped harm, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Several Americans also were injured.

Militants from al Shabab, a Somalia-based terror group linked to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack. Al Shabab said the attack was revenge for Kenya’s military operations in Somalia that began nearly two years ago.

Smoke pours from Kenya mall as forces ‘close in’


Thick smoke poured from the besieged Nairobi mall where Kenyan officials said their forces were closing in on Islamists holding hostages on Monday, the third day since Somalia's al Shabaab launched a raid that has killed at least 62 people.

It remained unclear how many gunmen and hostages were still cornered in the Westgate shopping center, after a series of loud explosions and gunfire were followed by black smoke billowing from one part of the complex.

Kenya's interior minister told a news conference militants had set fire to mattresses in a supermarket on the mall's lower floors. The ministry later said the blaze was under control.

Two attackers had been killed on Monday, the minister added. Another assailant had died on Saturday.

The gunmen came from “all over the world”, Kenya's military chief said, adding: “We are fighting global terrorism here.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed on Sunday a demand that he pull Kenyan forces out of neighboring Somalia.

Kenyatta, who lost one of his own nephews in Saturday's bloodbath, said he would not relent in a “war on terror” in Somalia, where Kenyan troops have pushed al Shabaab onto the defensive over the past two years as part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission across the northern border.

Security officials near the mall said the explosions heard at lunchtime were caused by Kenyan forces blasting a way in, but Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said he had no information on any blasts and a military spokesman declined to comment when asked if militants had set off charges.

Al Shabaab warned it would kill hostages if police moved in.

Echoing other officials, who have highlighted successes in rescuing hundreds of trapped people after Saturday's massacre, Ole Lenku said most of the complex was under the authorities' control and escape was impossible.

A senior police officer said the authorities, who have been receiving advice from Western and Israeli experts, were “closing in”. Ole Lenku said: “We are doing anything reasonably possible, cautiously though, to bring this process to an end.

“The terrorists could be running and hiding in some stores, but all floors now are under our control.”

Ole Lenku said all the attackers were men, after witnesses had reported seeing women brandishing arms in the attack.

But three sources, one an intelligence officer and two soldiers, told Reuters that one of the killed attackers was a white woman. This is likely to fuel speculation that she is the wanted widow of one of the suicide bombers who attacked London's transport system in 2005.

Asked if it was Samantha Lewthwaite, called the “white widow” by the British press, the intelligence officer said: “We don't know.”

CINEMA

President Uhuru Kenyatta refused on Sunday to pull Kenyan troops out of Somalia, where they have pushed al Shabaab on to the defensive over the past two years as part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission across the northern border.

Asked on Sunday about whether captives had been wired with explosives, he declined comment. Kenyatta said all the gunmen were in one place. But a Kenyan soldier told reporters near the mall on Monday that the assailants and hostages were dispersed.

“They're in the cinema hall, with hostages. There are other terrorists in different parts,” the soldier said. “They are on the upper floors, the third and fourth floors.”

Previously, officials had indicated that the militants may have been grouped in a supermarket on the lower floors.

The president, who lost a nephew in Saturday's killing, vowed to hold firm in the “war on terror” in Somalia and said, cautiously, that Kenyan forces could end the siege.

“I assure Kenyans that we have as good a chance to successfully neutralize the terrorists as we can hope for,” he said. “We will punish the masterminds swiftly and painfully.”

It was unclear who the assailants were. Al Shabaab – the name means “The Lads” in Arabic – has thousands of Somali fighters but has also attracted foreigners to fight Western and African Union efforts to establish a stable government.

A London man, Jermaine Grant, faces trial in Kenya for possession of explosives. Police suspect an al Shabaab plot to attack restaurants and hotels used by Westerners and have been hunting for another Briton, Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of a suicide bomber who took part in the London 7/7 attacks of 2005.

Some British newspapers speculated on the role the “White Widow” might have played at Westgate. The term “black widow” has been used by Chechen militants in Russia for women taking part in bombings and assaults after the deaths of their husbands.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, confirming that at least three Britons were already among the dead, said: “We should prepare ourselves for further bad news.”

U.S. President Barack Obama called Kenyatta to offer condolences and support. Israel, whose citizens own stores in the Israeli-built mall and have been targeted by Islamists in Kenya before, said Israeli experts were also helping.

As well as Kenyans, foreigners including a French mother and daughter and two diplomats, from Canada and Ghana, were killed. Ghanaian Kofi Awoonor was a renowned poet. Other victims came from China and the Netherlands. Five Americans were wounded.

Kenya's president, son of post-colonial leader Jomo Kenyatta, is facing his first major security challenge since being elected in March. The crisis might have an impact on his troubles with the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Judges there let his vice president, William Ruto, fly home for a week, suspending a trial on Monday in which Ruto is charged with crimes against humanity for allegedly coordinating violence after an election in 2007. Kenyatta is due to face trial on similar charges later this year.

MULTINATIONAL AFFAIR

Ole Lenku acknowledged “support” from foreign governments but said Kenyan forces were managing without it so far. Western powers have been alarmed by a spread of al Qaeda-linked violence across Africa, from Nigeria and Mali in the west, though Algeria and Libya in the north to Somalia and Kenya in the east.

Nairobi saw one of the first major attacks by al Qaeda, when it killed more than 200 people by bombing the U.S. embassy in 1998. While some analysts said the latest raid may show al Shabaab lashing out in its weakness after the successes of Kenyan troops in Somalia, the risk of further international violence remains.

Julius Karangi, chief of the Kenyan general staff, called the gunmen “a multinational collection”. He said they had set the fire as a distraction but could now have no hope of evading capture: “If they wish, they can now surrender,” he said.

“We have no intention whatsoever of going backwards.”

On Sunday, President Kenyatta said 10 to 15 assailants were holding an unknown number of hostages in one location, apparently the supermarket. On Monday, it was not clear whether they may be more dispersed, including on the upper floors.

A spokesman for al Shabaab warned they would kill hostages if Kenyan security forces tried to storm their positions. “The mujahideen will kill the hostages if the enemies use force,” Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said in an audio statement posted online.

On Twitter, the group posted: “They've obtained large amounts of ammunition and are, by the blessings of Allah alone, still firm and still dominating the show.”

The Red Cross and Ole Lenku put the death toll so far at 62. The Red Cross said it had also recorded 63 people as missing.

Survivors' tales of the assault by squads of attackers throwing grenades and spraying automatic fire have left little doubt the hostage-takers are willing to go on killing. Previous raids around the world, including at a desert gas plant in Algeria nine months ago, suggest they are also ready to die.

SECURITY CHALLENGE

It remains unclear who the assailants are. Al Shabaab – the name means “The Lads” in Arabic – has thousands of Somali fighters but has also attracted foreigners to fight Western and African Union efforts to establish a stable government.

A London man, Jermaine Grant, faces trial in Kenya for possession of explosives. Police suspect an al Shabaab plot to attack restaurants and hotels used by Westerners and have been hunting for the “white widow” Lewthwaite.

The term “black widow” has been used by Chechen militants for women taking part in attacks after their husbands have died.

Kenya's president, son of post-colonial leader Jomo Kenyatta, is facing his first major security challenge since being elected in March. The crisis might have an impact on his troubles with the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Judges there let his vice president, William Ruto, fly home for a week, suspending a trial on Monday in which Ruto is charged with crimes against humanity for allegedly coordinating violence after an election in 2007. Kenyatta is due to face trial on similar charges in November.

Al Shabaab's siege underlined its ability to cause major disruption with relatively limited resources, even after Kenyan and other African troops drove it from Somali cities.

“While the group has grown considerably weaker in terms of being able to wage a conventional war, it is now ever more capable of carrying out asymmetric warfare,” said Abdi Aynte, director of Mogadishu's Heritage Institute of Policy Studies.

Others said divisions within the loose al Shabaab movement may have driven one faction to carry out the kind of high-profile attack that may help win new support.

Al Shabaab's last big attack abroad was a double bombing in Uganda that killed 77 people watching soccer on TV in 2010.

Reporting by Edmund Blair, James Macharia, Duncan Miriri, Richard Lough, Drazen Jorgic, Humphrey Malalo, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Kevin Mwanza in Nairobi, Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg, Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu, Roberta Rampton in Washington, Anthony Deutsch at The Hague, Myra MacDonald in Tbilisi and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Edmund Blair and Alastair Macdonald; editing by David Stamp

Report: Israeli agents backing Kenyan troops in bid to end Nairobi mall siege


Kenyan troops reportedly backed by Israeli agents launched an assault to end the siege by Somali militants at a Nairobi shopping mall.

A Kenyan security source confirmed that Israelis “are rescuing the hostages and the injured” at the upscale Westgate mall, the French news agency AFP reported. The Israeli Foreign Ministry refused to confirm or deny its agents were involved in the operation, which took place shortly after nightfall on Sunday.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had said he received “numerous offers of assistance from friendly countries” but that for now it remained a Kenyan operation.

Citing an unidentified Israel security source, Reuters had reported earlier Sunday that Israeli advisers were helping with negotiation strategy but were not involved in “any imminent storming operation.”

The death toll in the attack was at 68, with police warning that it could rise “much higher,” AFP reported. Some 200 people have been injured in the attack, which began Saturday.

Militants from al Shabab, a Somalia-based terror group linked to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The five-story shopping center features several Israeli-owned outlets, according to wire services. Among them is the ArtCaffe — the attack by eight gunmen took place near the coffee shop and bakery.

One Israeli was injured and three others escaped harm, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A ministry spokeswoman said Israelis had not been specifically targeted.

“This time, the story is not about Israel,” she told The New York Times.

The spokeswoman told the Times that the ArtCaffe, which is located on the ground floor, is popular with foreigners.

Four Americans were injured in the bombing, according to the U.S. State Department.

Al Shabab said the attack was revenge for Kenya’s military operations in Somalia that began nearly two years ago, according to the Times.

Yariv Keidar, an employee of the Israeli-owned Amiran company based in Nairobi, told the Ynet news website that he and his Israeli co-worker hid his passport and work papers identifying him as Israeli trying to avoid kidnap or worse by the terrorists.

Islamist terrorists attacked an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya in 2002; three Israelis were among the 13 casualties. Four years earlier, an al-Qaida attack killed more than 200 people and destroyed the Nairobi-based American embassy.

Kenya jails two Iranians for life for plotting attacks


Two Iranian men were sentenced to life in prison by a Kenyan court on Monday for planning to carry out bombings in Nairobi and other cities last year.

Ahmad Mohammed and Sayed Mousavi were found guilty last week of planning the attacks and also possessing 33 lb of explosives. They were arrested in Nairobi in June.

Kenyan investigators said at the time of their arrest that it was unclear whether the pair had ties to al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia or were part of another network.

Their lawyers said the two, who had both pleaded not guilty, would appeal against their sentence.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the verdict was “unacceptable,” Iran's state television reported.

“The two citizens entered Kenya on a valid visa for tourism purposes last year and were arrested as part of a pre-planned plot with baseless accusations,” he said, adding he expected Kenya's new government to review the case in a “desirable way.”

Israel's domestic intelligence service Shin Bet said at the end of last year that Kenya had arrested “two senior (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard Corps operatives who were in the midst of preparing a terrorist attack on an Israeli target in Kenya”.

The agency did not say whether the two Iranians it referred to were Mohammed or Mousavi, but an Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity had told Reuters in Jerusalem when the two were convicted that they were thought to be the same.

Dozens of people were killed last year in a spate of bombings and attacks in the capital, the port city of Mombasa and the frontier region with Somalia.

The Nairobi government mostly blamed those incidents on the Somali al Shabaab rebels, who Kenyan troops have been battling inside Somalia as part of a peacekeeping force.

(Additional reporting by Zahra Hosseinian; Writing by James Macharia and Edmund Blair; Editing by Alison Williams)

Teen makes a difference for orphans in Kenya slum


Instead of splurging on a Wii or a state-of-the-art laptop, Ryan Silver, of Manhattan Beach, donated a portion of his gift money to orphans in a Nairobi slum.

“I think the best thing you can do is help another person,” said Silver, 13. “I have a better life than the kids [in the orphanage], and I wanted to help them.”

Silver’s inspiration stemmed from a 2006 family vacation to Africa. Silver, his parents and his younger sister went on safari and explored Kenya and Tanzania. While the incredible sights of wild animals and tribesman remain with him, Silver’s most memorable moments were meeting the children in the Nyumbani Orphanage in Mukuru, a slum in Kenya’s capital. The orphanage houses about 100 children whose families have been affected by AIDS/HIV.

Silver and his family had traveled with Micato Safaris and chose to participate in the New York-based tour operator’s nonprofit AmericaShare program, which allows travelers to spend time with the orphans in Nairobi.

AmericaShare supports about 2,000 Kenyan children, many of whom have been affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic sweeping the continent. The organization places underprivileged children in schools and orphanages throughout East Africa. Through Lend a Helping Hand, a subprogram of America-Share, travelers can meet local children and offer financial support if they so choose.

It’s “main accomplishment is travelers hooking up with children whom they now support,” said Dennis Pinto, Micato’s managing director. “Many of these children were homeless or living on streets, and this gets them out of that situation.”

Often, this means living in the safety of the orphanage and getting a boarding-school education.

For Silver, Mukuru was a far cry from the clean, upscale neighborhood he knows in Manhattan Beach, where he surfs daily and plays on the school lacrosse team. Home to about 700,000, Mukuru has no infrastructure and little access to water and electricity.

“It was shocking,” Silver said.

After walking through narrow streets filled with mud, past large piles of trash and tiny, rundown shops, he arrived at the orphanage.

When Silver entered the facility, two toddler orphans, a brother and sister, took him by the hand and showed him their play area and vegetable garden. The juxtaposition of the devastation and the happy children was overwhelming. Silver says he was overcome with emotion.

“They were the cutest kids I’d ever seen, and they were so excited to see us,” said Silver, his soft-spoken voice evoking a mixture of sympathy and enthusiasm.

During Silver’s visit, the children and their caretakers sang songs for him in Swahili and played games. Although he only spent about two hours there, the experience changed his life.

“It definitely made me realize how lucky I am to have a home and a family and have the food and I water I need,” said Silver, who is in the eighth grade.

According to Pinto, Silver is not alone. For many children, especially teenagers, a trip through the slums of Africa can be life- altering.

“It is an experience that reaches quite deep into the psyches of teenagers,” Pinto said.

When Silver returned home, he began preparing for his bar mitzvah. Without hesitation, he knew that his mitzvah project would involve helping the children in the orphanage.

When it was time to send the invitations for his March simcha, Silver enclosed a letter about the cause and asked guests to donate money to AmericaShare at the reception. At the party, he played a video of the children from the orphanage and gave guests handmade decorative pins and bracelets that they bought from the women from the orphanage. Between the guests’ donations and his own, Silver raised more than $2,700.

In addition to completing a Jewish rite of passage, Silver was pleased that his celebration helped educate others about the plight of the children in Africa and to ultimately offer financial support.

“Instead of just coming for a party, [my guests] came to see what Mukuru is like and how they can help,” he said.

Silver now sponsors a teenage boy from the orphanage named Evans. The donated funds cover Evans’ $1,500 tuition for one year, and the remainder of the money will go to help support an additional orphan.

Silver says he plans to continue to support Evans and other orphans in the years to come.

“Ryan is quite a special kid who is sensitive to the world beyond him,” said Rabbi Mark Hyman of Congregation Tikvat Jacob in Manhattan Beach, who officiated at Silver’s ceremony. Hyman said that becoming a bar mitzvah means one becomes responsible for transforming the world — something the teen has certainly taken on.

Silver said his experience in Africa continues to influence him.

“It has definitely given me a more positive look on life,” he said. “We can make a difference helping kids less fortunate.”

For more information, visit http://www.americashare.org/