Security forces surround militants in Kenyan mall
Al Shabaab attack on upmarket shopping precinct in Nairobi kills at least 59 people, including foreigners
Volunteers at the MP Shah hospital help a man overcome with grief after learning one of his relatives had been killed in yesterday’s attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
Troops from the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) holds his gun outside the Westgate Shopping Centre in the capital Nairobi today. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
Injured womena are rescued from the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, Kenya. Photograph: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
The Westgate shopping mall, which was stormed by Islamic militants yesterday. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
A wounded woman at the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi, which was stormed by al Qaeda-linked militants yesterday. Photograph: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters
Kenyan security forces remain locked in a stand-off with terrorists in a Nairobi shopping centre, nearly 24 hours after the gang opened fire in the building, killing at least 59 people.
Al-Shabaab, a militant Somali group that has declared allegiance to al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack at the Westgate Mall, during which non-Muslims were reportedly singled out.
A volley of gunfire lasting about 30 seconds this morning interrupted a stalemate of several hours at the shopping centre, which has several Israeli-owned outlets and which is frequented by expatriates and Kenyans.
Foreigners, including two diplomats - one from Canada and another from Ghana - were killed in yesterday’s attack at Westgate mall. Three Britons were also killed with that number is set to rise, the British Foreign Office said this afternoon.
Shortly after the shots were fired, troops in camouflage ran crouching below a restaurant terrace along the front of the building that had been buzzing with customers when assailants charged in. One witness said they first told Muslims to leave.
For hours after the brazen attack, the dead were strewn around tables of unfinished meals. At one burger restaurant, a man and woman lay in a final embrace after they had been killed, before their bodies were removed. Pop music was left playing.
Scores of Kenyans gathered at a site overlooking the mall, awaiting what they expected to be a violent denouement. “They entered through blood, that’s how they’ll leave,” said Jonathan Maungo, a private security guard.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, facing his first major security challenge since a March election, said some of his close family members were among the dead, and vowed to defeat the militants. “We have overcome terrorist attacks before,” he said.
The assault was the biggest single attack in Kenya since al-Qaeda’s East Africa cell bombed the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing more than 200 people. In 2002, the same militant cell attacked an Israeli-owned hotel on the coast and tried to shoot down an Israeli jet in a coordinated strike.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku told reporters security forces were doing everything they could to rescue hostages still inside the mall. He said the government believed that there were up to 15 attackers who security forces had been able to “isolate”, but no communication had yet been established with them. He added that 175 people had been taken to hospital after an assault that could prove a costly setback for east Africa’s biggest economy, which relies heavily on tourism revenues. More than 1,000 people were evacuated in the standoff. Soldiers joined the security operation backed by armoured personnel carriers in the hours after the attack. Security forces have been combing through the mall, clearing the floors.
The dead included children, and the wounded ranged in age from 2 to 78. Many victims were at a children’s cooking competition when assailants opened fire on them, witnesses said.
Terrified shoppers told of how they huddled in back hallways and prayed they would not be found by the Islamic extremist gunmen.
When the way appeared clear, crying mothers clutching small children and blood-splattered men sprinted out of the four-storey mall.
Witness Elijah Kamau said the gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted. The gunmen threw grenades and then opened fire, sending shoppers and staff fleeing for their lives.