TORONTO – Canada offered its support to Kenya Sunday, saying it was “prepared to do more” to help the east African country recover from a horrific terrorist attack that killed at least 68 people, including two Canadians.
Officials have confirmed that diplomat Annemarie Desloges was one of two Canadians killed when gunman opened fire with AK-47s and threw grenades at Nairobi’s upscale Westgate mall, a venue frequented by expatriates and wealthy locals.
Media reports and Facebook users identified Vancouver businessman Naguib Damji as the other Canadian victim.
Foreign Affairs in Ottawa also announced Sunday night that as a security precaution Canada’s High Commission in Nairobi would be closed to the general public on Monday.
However, spokesman Rick Roth said Canadian staff would continue to provide emergency support to those who need consular assistance.
The attack that began Saturday dragged into Sunday, with 10 to 15 terrorists holed up inside the building with a number of hostages as Kenyan authorities mounted what they called a final operation to end the siege.
Somalia’s radical Islamist rebel group, al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the attack as retribution for the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia. It said there would be no negotiations.
“I reached out yesterday and spoke with my counterpart from Kenya and offered not only our sympathies but our support in the fight against al-Shabab international terrorism,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said at an event in Toronto.
“Al-Shabab’s despicable actions, and the number of people from different nationalities killed do show that the fight against terrorism is the great struggle of our generation and does require us collaborating and working together.”
At least two Canadian citizens and one permanent resident were among the 175 injured.
Kenyan officials said they would do their best to save hostages lives, but there was no official word on how many victims remained in the mall. Kenya’s Red Cross said in a statement citing police that 49 people had been reported missing.
Baird said Canada would wait for the situation to be resolved before deciding on any steps forward.
“The capacity to be able to look at accountability and what we might do to support the Kenyan government, that phase hasn’t started yet,” he said.
“Once the incident is over obviously we’ll work with like-minded allies to look at what we can do on counter-terrorism.”
A number of Canadians took to social media on Sunday to express their shock at the Nairobi attack and voice their sympathies for the families of the two Canadian victims.
Desloges, a 29-year-old diplomat who worked at the Canadian embassy in Nairobi, was off duty shopping at the mall with her husband when gunfire rang out.
Her spouse, Robert Munk, was injured in the attack but has since been released from hospital. Her family requested privacy on Sunday.
The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, which Desloges was a member of, said it was “devastated” by the loss of one of its own.
“Annemarie’s death inflicts a deep wound on the Foreign Service community,” president Tim Edwards said in a statement.
“Annemarie was one of our bright young lights, and hers was a career brimming with promise. Today we grieve the loss not only of a warm and intelligent friend and colleague, but a lifetime’s potential tragically unfilled.”
Edwards said Desloges came from a “foreign service family” and had accompanied her parents on overseas postings before deciding to follow in their footsteps in 2006. She served at a posting in New Delhi before moving to Kenya, where she had worked for two years.
He noted that Desloges is the first Canadian diplomat killed on a posting since Glyn Berry died in an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan in 2006.
“Annemarie was exactly the kind of person all Canadians would want as front line abroad,” Edwards said.
“Possessed of a strong work ethic, Annemarie was sharp and meticulous in her work – a true professional – and expressed herself with a poise and confidence which belied her youth.”
Daniel Lee Howe, who once took a Foreign Service training session with Desloges in Ottawa, said he remembered her talking about getting married in Cuba when they met in 2011.
While Howe called Desloges’ death a great loss, he said it wouldn’t stop him from taking on overseas postings.
“It’s rare but it does happen when you go on a posting with a high hardship level,” he said of her death. “We’re trained for these events as part of the job.”
Others who knew Desloges took to Twitter to express their shock at her death.
“Yesterday was a sad day for my family. My cousin Anne-Marie Desloges was killed in the terrorist attacks in Nairobi, Kenya. My thoughts go out to her parents, sister, husband and other families affected by this,” tweeted one person who identified themselves as a relative.
“My heart goes out to the family & friends of my colleague, Annemarie Desloges,” tweeted another.
The daughter and niece of Damji confirmed to various media that he died in the attack.
“The family is very deeply saddened by the tragedy and kindly request their privacy during this devastating time,” his daughter, Karima, said in a statement to Global News.
Friends voiced their support for the family on Facebook.
One person described Damji as a “great man” while another called him “full of life and so kind.”
“I’ll never forget the way his face would light up with joy when he told stories of our family’s history and origins. A beautiful human being,” said another person.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canadians’ thoughts were with all the victims.
“The government of Canada wants to condemn, as strongly as we possibly can, this cowardly act that has taken place against many innocent people,” he said at an event in Toronto.
“We will continue to work with our partners internationally to do everything we can to fight terrorism.”
Meanwhile, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has reiterated his government’s determination to continue fighting al-Shabab.
“We went as a nation into Somalia to help stabilize the country and most importantly to fight terror that had been unleashed on Kenya and the world,” he said on Sunday.”We shall not relent on the war on terror.”