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Ottawa strengthens diplomatic security over Kenyan standoff

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said “we’re obviously still on high alert for our diplomatic staff” after the terrorist attack at a Kenyan mall.

CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada has bolstered diplomatic security and issued warnings to visitors in Kenya after the bloody hostage-taking in Nairobi.

"At current, we're obviously still on high alert for our diplomatic staff and we're going to take every reasonable measure we can to secure their safety," Foreign Minister John Baird said Sunday in Toronto at an unrelated appearance. "Obviously, because the incident is still ongoing, 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."

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development said in an e-mail that "appropriate" security measures had been taken for diplomatic staff, but would not be more specific.

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As a security precaution, Canada's High Commission in Kenya will be closed to the general public on Monday. Canadian staff will continue to provide emergency support to those who need consular assistance.

In an updated warning posted Sunday morning, the department urged visitors to "remain highly vigilant and avoid public places in the next 24-48 hours." The warning also advised against non-essential travel to Eastleigh, a neighbourhood of Nairobi that has been the site of several bomb blasts in the past year.

In a statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said such "acts of terror cannot be allowed to go unpunished."

"Canadian staff at our mission are offering Kenyan authorities every possible assistance to bring the perpetrators of this heinous attack to justice," he added.

Ottawa says it will fully support any investigation into whether Canadian citizens were involved in the weekend's bloody attack against a shopping mall in Kenya.

Two Twitter accounts claiming to be linked to al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-affiliated movement whose militants stormed Nairobi's Westgate mall, said Sunday that the terrorist team included a number of Americans and Europeans and a 24-year-old man from Ontario.

"We are aware of the reports but do not comment on operational matters of national security," Rick Roth, Mr. Baird's director of communications, said in an e-mailed statement. "Our government will provide its full support to any investigation of a terrorist act that does or may include Canadian citizens. Terrorists, regardless of their citizenship, must be punished for their cowardice and depravity."

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There were conflicting media accounts over the authenticity of the two Twitter accounts, one in Arabic and one in English, which was quickly suspended. CNN said "a source within al-Shabaab" had confirmed the Twitter posts, while journalists with The Associated Press and al Jazeera said their al-Shabaab sources told them the accounts and names were fake.

Al-Shabaab has been known to recruit in the Somalian diaspora. Five young Somali-Canadian men joined in 2009 and two years later a sixth was arrested as he was about to board a flight at Toronto Pearson International Airport. The name that appeared on Twitter Sunday didn't match those of the previous six Canadian recruits.

Saed Rageah, a Toronto imam who knew the previous group of six, said he had not heard of the name listed on Twitter. Ahmed Hussen, president of the Canadian Somali Congress, also said he was not familiar with the name.

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