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FBI agents work in nightmarish scene at Kenya mall

Thursday - 9/26/2013, 1:36am  ET

Relatives and friends support Ayaz Merali, centre, during the funeral of his wife Salima Ayaz Merali and daughter Nurianna, in Nairobi, Kenya, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. Merali was killed alongside her daughter in last Saturday's Westgate Mall attack. The militant group behind the four-day takeover of a Nairobi mall claim Kenyan government forces used explosives in carrying out "a demolition" of the building, burying 137 hostages. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)

ANDREW O. SELSKY
Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Working near bodies crushed by rubble in a bullet-scarred, scorched mall, FBI agents began fingerprint, DNA and ballistic analysis Wednesday to help determine the identities and nationalities of victims and al-Shabab gunmen who attacked the shopping center, killing more than 60 people.

A gaping hole in the mall's roof was caused by Kenyan soldiers who fired rocket-propelled grenades inside, knocking out a support column, a government official told The Associated Press. The official, who insisted he not be identified because he was sharing security information, said the soldiers fired to distract a terrorist sniper so hostages could be evacuated.

Video of the roof collapse showed massive carnage. The collapse came Monday, shortly after four large explosions rang out followed by billows of black smoke. Although a government minister said the terrorists had set mattresses on fire, causing the roof to collapse, the video showed such massive destruction that the explanation seemed unlikely to be the full story.

Al-Shabab on its Twitter feed Wednesday claimed that the Kenyan government assault team carried out "a demolition" of the building.

The current death toll is 67 and is likely to climb with uncounted bodies remaining in the wreckage of the Nairobi mall. Another 175 people were injured, including more than 60 who remain hospitalized. At least 18 foreigners were among those killed.

Al-Shabab, the Somali Islamic extremist group which carried out the attack, said Wednesday that foreigners were a "legitimate target" and confirmed witness accounts that gunmen separated Muslims from other people and let the Muslims go free. The others were gunned down or taken hostage.

"The Mujahideen carried out a meticulous vetting process at the mall and have taken every possible precaution to separate the Muslims from the Kuffar (disbelievers) before carrying out their attack," the group said in an email exchange with The Associated Press.

Witnesses have told AP and other media that gunmen rounded up people, asked questions about Islam that a Muslim would know and told the Muslims to leave the mall. Still, some Muslims were among the victims.

Also among those killed when the militants entered the Westgate Mall on Saturday, firing assault rifles and throwing grenades were six Britons and citizens from France, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Peru, India, Ghana, South Africa and China.

Asked if al-Shabab had intended to kill foreigners, the group said "our target was to attack the Kenyan govt on it's soil and any part of the Kenyan territory is a legitimate target ... and Kenya should be held responsible for the loss of life, whether foreigners or local."

Al-Shabab had threatened retaliation against Kenya for sending its troops into Somalia against al-Shabab, and many of those killed in an attack that horrified the world were Kenyans. The group's leader, Ahmed Godane, said in a new audio statement Wednesday that the attack was carried out in retaliation for the West's support for Kenya's Somalia invasion and the "interest of their oil companies." Somalia has untapped energy reserves. More attacks would come, Godane said, if Kenya doesn't withdraw its troops.

Though Kenya's foreign minister earlier said that "two or three" American citizens may have been involved in the attack, a Western official said that after checking passport and refugee databases, there is not yet an indication any Americans were involved. Several U.S. cities, notably Minneapolis, host large Somali-American communities.

The violence continued elsewhere Wednesday. In the Kenyan town of Wajir, which lies along the border with Somalia, one person was killed and four wounded after a gunman opened fire and threw grenades, the Interior Ministry said.

Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said forensic experts from the U.S., Israel, Britain, Germany and Canada are all taking part in trying to reconstruct the scene at the mall. He said results would not be ready before a week's time.

Morgue officials in Nairobi have been prepared for the last two days for a large influx of bodies still in the mall. Officials have told AP that the shopping center, which the terrorists held for four days, could hold dozens more bodies. The government has confirmed 72 total deaths: 61 civilians, six security forces and five attackers. The Red Cross says 71 people remain missing.

Al-Shabab said the Kenyan government assault team carried out "a demolition" of the building, burying 137 hostages in the debris. A government spokesman denied the claim and said Kenyan forces were clearing all rooms Wednesday, firing as they moved and encountering no one.

The al-Shabab claim appeared to refer to the rocket-propelled grenades fired inside the Nakumatt department store, in the incident described to AP by a government official.

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