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Source: Store in besieged Kenyan mall run by attackers or associates

By Michael Pearson and Nima Elbagir, CNN
updated 3:40 PM EDT, Fri September 27, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Possible Al-Shabaab Twitter account warns Nairobi the attack was only "Act 1"
  • Source: Investigators link a store rented in the past year to the attackers
  • Despite 8 in custody, there's rising concern that some of the attackers escaped
  • At least 67 people are known dead; as many as 61 remain unaccounted for

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- To anyone shopping at Nairobi's Westgate Mall, it would likely have seemed just another store.

But according to a Kenyan intelligence official, the small shop concealed an ominous secret. It was rented by the Al-Shabaab terrorists, or their associates, who within a year would carry out an attack on the upscale shopping mall.

The information -- revealed Friday to CNN by the source, who is close to the investigation into the attack -- suggests the Somalian terror organization had been planning the operation at least that long.

How the team of terrorists got their weapons and explosives into the mall without notice is a central part of the investigation into the attack, which left at least 67 people dead and parts of the upscale mall in ruins.

The Kenya Red Cross said Friday that 61 people remain unaccounted for. Some could be buried in the rubble of the partially collapsed mall.

Relatives of Johnny Mutinda Musango, 48, weep after identifying his body at the city morgue in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday, September 24. Musango was one of the victims of the Westgate Mall hostage siege. Kenyan security forces were still combing the mall on the fourth day of the siege by al Qaeda-linked terrorists. Relatives of Johnny Mutinda Musango, 48, weep after identifying his body at the city morgue in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday, September 24. Musango was one of the victims of the Westgate Mall hostage siege. Kenyan security forces were still combing the mall on the fourth day of the siege by al Qaeda-linked terrorists.
Kenya mall attack
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A woman shouts during a special prayer at the Legio Maria African Mission church in Nairobi, Kenya, on Sunday, September 29, for the victims of the Westgate Shopping Mall shooting. A woman shouts during a special prayer at the Legio Maria African Mission church in Nairobi, Kenya, on Sunday, September 29, for the victims of the Westgate Shopping Mall shooting.
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Bergen: Unlikely women were attackers
Heroism during a moment of terrorism

At least five of the terrorists also died before Kenyan forces were finally able to bring the siege to an end on Tuesday. The terrorists stormed the building Saturday.

Read: Mall attack timeline

On a Twitter account believed to be run by Al-Shabaab, the group promised more attacks to come.

"The mesmeric performance by the #Westgate Warriors was undoubtedly gripping, but despair not folks, that was just the premiere of Act 1," according to a tweet posted Thursday.

CNN could not confirm the authenticity of the tweet, but CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said the account, which has also posted links to statements from Shabaab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, appears to be legitimate, even if not "100% authenticated."

Several Twitter accounts attributed to Al-Shabaab have been shut down in recent days, likely for violating the company's rules against promoting violence in tweets.

While Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said Friday that eight suspects are being held for questioning in the attack, authorities are increasingly concerned that some of the attackers managed to escape alongside fleeing civilians in the aftermath of the initial attack, U.S. law enforcement officials told CNN.

On Thursday, a Kenyan counterterrorism source told CNN that one of the suspects is an injured Kenyan who was being evacuated when a machine gun magazine fell out of his pocket, leading to suspicion he was among the automatic-weapon toting terrorists who roamed the mall killing civilians. He is being held in a military hospital, the source said.

READ: Source: Kenya mall attack suspect eyed after ammunition fell out of his pocket

Among the suspects are three people picked up near the Ugandan border, the Kenyan official who revealed information about the mall store told CNN.

READ: More U.S. Marines fortify Nairobi embassy security

CNN's Michael Pearson reported and wrote from Atlanta; Nima Elbagir reported from Nairobi; CNN's Neda Fashbaf also contributed to this report

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