Washington (CNN) – Rep. Peter King, a member of the House intelligence committee who has been briefed on Saturday’s attack in Nairobi, Kenya, argued Sunday the brutal mall killings show a “growing influence of al Qaeda in Africa.”
In an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” the New York Republican also said he assumes the United States government is looking to prevent any attempts in the U.S. by Al-Shabaab, the group claiming responsibility for the attack.
Al-Shabaab is an al Qaeda-linked Somali group that was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government in March 2008. It was behind the July 2010 suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, that killed more than 70 people as they gathered to watch a World Cup final soccer match.
“It's an extremely deadly organization, very well trained,” King said. “And it's one of the only al Qaeda affiliates which actually has actively recruited here in the United States. There is at least 40 to 50 Somali-Americans (who) have gone from the United States to Somalia to be trained. A number of them have been killed, but there's others still alive.”
Read more: What is Al-Shabaab?
King added he hasn’t heard whether any of those American jihadists were involved in the mall attack. “We know there's probably still 15 to 20 Somali-Americans who are still active over there.”
“The concern would be if any of those have come back to the United States and would use those abilities here in the United States,” he continued.
The Justice Department believes al-Shabaab has made recruiting efforts inside mosques in Somali-American communities in cities such as Minneapolis and San Diego
To combat the group’s rising presence in Africa, the U.S. has supported United Nations-backed African forces fighting Al-Shabaab and strengthened its counterterrorism efforts against the group. It has also donated millions in aid.
The U.S. State Department said this week that Somali security forces, aided by the African Union Mission in Somalia, have driven Al-Shabaab out of major cities and towns.
“I would assume that the FBI and local law enforcement are looking into those Somalia-American communities today … using all their sources and resources to make sure there's no follow-up attempt here in the United States,” King said.
President Barack Obama spoke on the phone Sunday with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya to express condolences, according to a statement from the White House.
“President Obama reiterated U.S. support for Kenya’s efforts to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice,” the statement read.
A U.S. official tells CNN the Pentagon has offered the Kenyan government any assistance it needs, but so far no requests have been made.
– CNN’s Ashley Killough, Tom Watkins and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.