NAIROBI, Kenya (AP/MyFoxBoston.com) - A 2013 graduate of Harvard University's Department of Global Health and Population was among those killed in an attack at an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya over the weekend.
Elif Yavuz, 33, and her partner, Australian Ross Langdon, were among the more than 60 people killed when al-Qaida-linked terrorists laid siege to the mall on Saturday. The couple were expecting their first child in early October.
Yavuz, who was from The Netherlands, had completed her dissertation research on malaria in eastern Africa and was working with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the university said in a note to faculty, staff and students.
She was listed as a co-author on at least one academic malaria study, including one led by Harvard in 2009 in Uganda, examining whether people with malaria stuck to their treatment. She was also listed as a contributing author in a letter to the medical journal Lancet last year that argued the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria should use more innovative strategies in public health.
On Monday, four thunderous explosions rattled the Westgate Mall, part of a battle between Kenyan troops and the terrorists. Top Kenyan officials said two hostage takers, part of "a multinational collection from all over the world," had been killed.
Dark plumes of smoke rose from the mall for more than an hour after four large explosions rocked the upscale Westlands neighborhood. A person with knowledge of the rescue operation told The Associated Press that the smoke was rising up and out of a large skylight inside the mall's main department and grocery store, Nakumatt, where goods like mattresses may have been lit on fire.
Kenya Chief of Defense forces Gen. Julius Karangi said fighters from an array of nations participated in the attack claimed by al-Shabab, a Somali group allied with al-Qaida.
"We have an idea who these people are and they are clearly a multinational collection from all over the world," he said.
Karangi said Kenyan forces were in charge of all floors inside the mall, though terrorists could still be hiding inside. 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.
The four explosions were followed by volleys of gunfire, then a thick, dark column of smoke that burned for roughly 90 minutes. Military and police helicopters and one plane circled over the Nairobi mall, giving the upscale neighborhood the feel of a war zone.
On Sunday Kenyan officials announced that "most" hostages had been rescued. But no numbers were given. Kenyan officials have never said how many hostages they thought the attackers had, but have said preserving the hostages' lives is a top priority, greatly complicating the final fight against the attackers.
Kenyans and foreigners were among those confirmed dead, including British, French, Canadians, Indians, a Ghanaian, a South African and a Chinese woman. The UK Foreign Office said Monday it has confirmed the deaths of four British nationals.
From neighboring Somalia, spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage for al-Shabab — the militant group that claimed responsibility for the attack — said in an audio file posted on a website that the hostage takers had been ordered to "take punitive action against the hostages" if force was used to try to rescue them.
At the Oshwal Centre next to the mall, the Red Cross was using a squat concrete structure that houses a Hindu temple as a triage center. Medical workers attended to at least two wounded Kenyan soldiers there on Monday.
Al-Shabab said on a Twitter feed, an account that unlike some others appears to be genuine, that the attackers had lots of ammunition. The feed said that Kenya's government would be responsible for any loss of hostages' lives.
A large military assault began on the mall shortly before sundown on Sunday, with one helicopter skimming very close to the roof of the shopping complex as a loud explosion rang out, far larger than any previous grenade blast or gunfire volley. Officials said the siege would soon end and said "most" hostages had been rescued and that officials controlled "most" of the mall. But on Monday the standoff remained.
As the crisis surpassed the 48-hour mark, video taken by someone inside the mall's main department store when the assault began emerged. The video showed frightened and unsure shoppers crouching as long and loud volleys of gunfire could be heard.
The al-Shabab extremists stormed the mall on Saturday from two sides, throwing grenades and firing on civilians.
Kenyan authorities said they would do their utmost to save hostages' lives, but no officials could say precisely how many people were being held captive. Kenya's Red Cross said in a statement, citing police, that 49 people had been reported missing. Officials did not make an explicit link but that number could give an indication of the number of people held captive.
Al-Shabab said the attack, targeting non-Muslims, was in retribution for Kenyan forces' 2011 push into neighboring Somalia.
Statement by President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton on the death of Elif Yavuz:
We were shocked and terribly saddened to learn of the death of Elif Yavuz in the senseless attacks in Nairobi. Elif devoted her life to helping others, particularly people in developing countries suffering from malaria and HIV/AIDS. She had originally worked with our Health Access Initiative during her doctoral studies, and we were so pleased that she had recently rejoined us as a senior vaccines researcher based in Tanzania. Elif was brilliant, dedicated, and deeply admired by her colleagues, who will miss her terribly. On behalf of the entire Clinton Foundation, we send our heartfelt condolences and prayers to Elif's family and her many friends throughout the world.