Mall of America steps up security after Kenya attacks

6:00 AM, Sep 25, 2013   |    comments
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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - The Mall of America has implemented extra security precautions after the Nairobi mall attack, saying the safety and security of guests, tenants and employees is top priority.

"Mall of America continues to monitor the tragic events unfolding in Kenya with the help of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. We are deeply saddened by the events and our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected. Mall of America has implemented extra security precautions, some may be noticeable to guests and others won't be. We will continue to follow the situation, along with law enforcement, and will remain vigilant as we always do in similar situations," said a mall spokesperson in an email statement to media.

Mall officials tell CNN they practice lock-down drills twice a month. Tenants and customers practice sheltering in back rooms of stores, aiming to prevent casualties in case of an attack.

Experts stress so-called soft targets like malls are always attractive to terrorists because they are usually not defended nor do they have a lot of security. Experts caution shoppers to be aware of their surroundings.

According to NBC news, Amina Mohamed, Kenya's foreign minister, told PBS Newshour late Monday that American and British citizens of Somali or Arab origin were believed to be among the perpetrators "from the information that we have."

She said the Americans were young men, about between maybe 18 and 19 years old and lived in Minnesota and one other place.

However, a senior U.S. law enforcement official told NBC News that authorities had been unable to verify that Americans were involved, despite aggressive checks of travel records.

Bob Fletcher, the former Ramsey County Sheriff, has now opened the Center for Somalia History Studies. He has extensively studied the radicalization of Somali youth and says, to his count, five Minnesota Somali youth have joined al-Shabab in the past five years.

He cautions while the mall attack in Kenya is an atrocity, the U.S. has not yet confirmed a Minnesota connection to what happened in Nairobi.

"The Somalian community feels this huge indictment of them. We have 100,000 Somalis here in Minnesota, and to have five go back in the last five years is a relatively small number. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be prepared for al-Shabab, worried about mall security, whether it's a Pakistani kid, Afghani kid it could be from any country. But, let's look at the positives. Our Somali community is a strong, positive force here in this community," said Fletcher.

Fletcher cites several groups working to engage Somali youth who may feel isolated and lost between cultures, to prevent them from joining extremist groups. One such organization, Ka Joog, will hold a news conference at noon Wednesday to address their concerns.

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