Former L.I. University Instructor Among Kenya Mall Attack Victims
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – One of the people confirmed dead in the militant attack on a shopping mall in Kenya is a former writing instructor at Stony Brook University on Long Island.
Kofi Awoonor, a Ghanaian poet, professor and former ambassador to Brazil, Cuba and the United Nations, died after being wounded in the attack, Ghana’s presidential office confirmed.
Awoonor taught creative writing and African literature at Stony Brook for six years in the 1970s. He also received his Ph.D. from the school.
Dr. William Arens, Vice Provost and Dean of Global Affairs at Stony Brook, said Awoonor’s death was “very upsetting.”
“He was a peacemaker,” Arens told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera. “I remember him as a very peaceful man and this is the worst way for him to lose his life, in this act of violence.”
Roberta Richin, executive director of the Council for Prejudice Reduction and one of Awoonor’s former students, said Awoonor was “brilliant” and “gentle.”
“I am heartbroken. Kofi Awooner — brilliant poet and my Stony Brook University mentor and friend – was murdered by terrorists who rained bullets on innocent people in the mall in Nairobi,” Richin said in a statement. “This is such a terrible loss to his family, his friends, his country, his continent and our world.”
Co-founder of Amnesty International’s Long Island chapter Arthur Dobrin said Awoonor was in Nairobi to attend an annual festival of literature and the arts.
“He was one of the featured poets,” Dobrin said.
Ghana’s ministry of information said Awoonor’s son was also injured, but is responding to treatment.
Meanwhile, as CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported Monday, the military in Kenya said the mall where at least 62 people were killed in the attack Saturday has been secured.
New videos showed frightened shoppers caught on camera running for their lives as bullets flew through parts of the mall.
It was not clear how many hostages could still be inside the mall as of Monday, but authorities said most of them were out. But gunshots persisted in Nairobi, turning calm scenes quickly into chaos.
Four thunderous explosions also reverberated through a Nairobi neighborhood in the morning, raising fears for the lives of any remaining hostages still being held in the Westgate Mall.
Reporters and bystanders scrambled for cover after another round of shots was heard from inside the Nairobi shopping center.
Dark smoke was seen rising from the mall, while Kenyan authorities said they had control of all floors as they tried to free the hostages.
“Almost all of them have been evacuated,” said Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku.
But survivors were telling horror stories. Among them was Dorcas Mwangi of Athens, Ga.
“It was crazy, because everyone was running,” Mwangi said. “People’s faces were full of shock and horror. There’s screaming.”
Mwangi hid behind boxes, and said terrorists were shooting hostages who could not recite a Muslim prayer. Her brother texted her crucial information.
“My brother sent me the Muslim Shahad prayer to memorize,” she said.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, several restaurant workers took refuge in an air shaft. Some shoppers were pinned down so long, they did not have a plan for what they would do if the terrorists found them.
Mwangi was never spotted and made it out. So did Elaine Dang, a native of San Diego, who was hospitalized with wounds to the chest, arms and legs.
“I just got out of surgery,” she said. “I’m OK. I’m very grateful to be alive.”
The attack was carried out by the Somali terror group al-Shabab, which called the strike retribution for Kenya pushing into Somalia in 2011. CBS News Senior Correspondent John Miller said the group has been in turmoil for the last couple of years.
“There’s one faction that wanted to be a domestic group that would take over Somalia and bring Sharia law, but there’s an entire other influenced heavily by al-Qaeda’s headquarters – that’s the group’s mission,” Miller said.
President Barack Obama said he has spoken to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“We will provide whatever law enforcement support is necessary, and we are confident they will rebuild,” Obama said.
Speaking at the United Nations headquarters, Obama said a strong stand is necessary.
“We are confident that Kenya, which has been a pillar of stability in eastern Africa will rebuild, but this, I think, underscores the degree to which all of us as an international community have to stand against the kind of senseless violence that these types of groups represent,” Obama said.
A total of five Americans – including Mwangi and Dang – were recovering from injuries Monday.
And three attackers were killed in the fighting Monday, officials said, and more than 10 suspects arrested. Eleven Kenyan soldiers were wounded in the running gun battles. By evening, Kenyan security officials were claiming the upper hand.
“Taken control of all the floors. We’re not here to feed the attackers with pastries but to finish and punish them,” Police Inspector General David Kimaiyo said on Twitter.
Kenya’s interior minister said the evacuation of hostages “has gone very, very well” and that Kenyan officials are “very certain” that there are few if any hostages left in the building.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku also revised the death toll to 62. Kenyan officials earlier said 59 people have died since the siege on Westgate Mall began on Saturday, while the Red Cross had put the toll at 68, then in a tweet lowered it to 62, saying some bodies had been counted twice.
Kenya Chief of Defense forces Gen. Julius Karangi said fighters from an array of nations participated in the attack claimed by al-Shabab.
“We have an idea who these people are and they are clearly a multinational collection from all over the world,” he said.
Earlier witness reports had indicated that a woman was among the estimated 10 to 15 attackers. Lenku said that instead some male attackers had dressed up like women.
Long Island Rep. Peter King, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday it’s possible Americans are among the attackers.
”It’s an extremely deadly organization, very well-trained and it’s one of the only al-Qaeda affiliates which actively recruited here in the United States,” King said. “There is at least 40 to 50 Somali-Americans who have gone to Somalia to be trained.”
On Monday, Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said on the PBS NewsHour that at least two or three Americans were indeed among the gunmen.
The al-Shabab extremists stormed the mall on Saturday from two sides, throwing grenades and firing on civilians.
Al-Shabab is an extremist Islamic terrorist force that grew out of the anarchy that crippled Somalia after warlords ousted a longtime dictator in 1991. Its name means “The Youth” in Arabic, and it was a splinter youth wing of a weak Islamic Courts Union government created in 2006 to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the East African nation.
Al-Shabab is estimated to have several thousand fighters, including a few hundred foreign fighters. Some of the insurgents’ foreign fighters are from the Middle East with experience in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Others are young, raw recruits from Somali communities in the United States and Europe.
Check Out These Other Stories From CBSNewYork.com:
- Conditions Go Downhill As Blizzard Swoops Into North Suburban Counties
- Gov. Christie Declares Travel Ban As New Jersey Readies For Major Winter Storm
- NYC, Long Island, NJ, Connecticut All Ban Street Traffic As Blizzard Pounds Area
- NYC Travel Ban In Effect; City Public Schools Closed Tuesday
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)