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If some Kenya attackers are American, is the US obliged to do something? (+video)

US officials are not confirming reports that 'two or three' Americans were among the Kenya mall attackers, but if it is true, it could have legal and security implications for the US.

By Correspondent / September 24, 2013

Kenyan security forces are seen at the entrance of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday Sept. 24 2013. Security forces have been attempting to rescue an unknown number of hostages inside the mall held by al-Qaida-linked terrorists.

Jerome Delay/ AP Photo

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Washington

Kenya’s foreign minister said Tuesday that “two or three” Americans were involved in the deadly mall attack that has left 62 people dead, 175 injured and dozens still missing.

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The Washington Post is reporting that Kenyan foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, said there were "two or three" Americans among the gunmen, and described them as “young men, about between maybe 18 and 19."

The Kenyan official, Amina Mohamed, told PBS that the Americans were 18 to 19 years old, of Somali or Arab origin, and lived "in Minnesota and one other place" in the US.

With the standoff in its fourth day, US officials are not confirming that report. The FBI, which investigates crimes against Americans and US interests overseas, has been unable to verify it, according to ABC News. And a State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, did not back it up.

“We have no definitive evidence of the nationalities or identities of the perpetrators at this time,” Ms. Psaki said, per The New York Times. “We will continue to look into these reports.”

But if those assertions are true, several questions arise. The basics, of course: Who are they, where are they from, and why have they turned to violence?

It’s a reminder for many that democracy and freedom, even in nations like ours that aim to nurture both intensely, are at times tenuous ideals. Our obligations to those principles don’t end at our border, says Michael O’Hanlon, a Brookings senior fellow who also directs the organization’s foreign policy research.

“I guess it just goes to show that, while we’re pretty lucky not to have large numbers of radicals on our own soil, at least not of a Takfiri/jihadist variety, we aren’t immune to the problem,” Mr. O’Hanlon says. “It also underscores that we may have some obligations to other countries if we contributed to Kenya’s tragedy indirectly, meaning that our overseas military and security activities, we should remember, are not just acts of altruism.”

With the US focused since 9/11 on beefing up institutional practices in place to prevent individuals who mean to harm Americans from getting into the country, this latest episode raises new questions about how we examine those exiting as well.

“Our immigration system may need to look at people more carefully sometimes when they go out of the country, not just when they come in,” O’Hanlon says.

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