Shooting at Kenyan shopping centre leaves at least 22 dead

Armed assailants stormed Westgate mall in Nairobi and opened fire on ’non-muslims’

An armed security officer  assists civilians escaping from the Westgate Shopping Centre where gunmen went on a shooting spree today. Photograph: REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

An armed security officer assists civilians escaping from the Westgate Shopping Centre where gunmen went on a shooting spree today. Photograph: REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

Sat, Sep 21, 2013, 17:21

At least 22 people are now known to have been killed in a suspected terrorist attack on an upmarket shopping mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. There were unconfirmed reports of more than 30 people being held hostage by the gang, who were armed with guns and grenades and had threatened to target non-Muslims, according to an eye-witness.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “appalled” by the attack, adding: “My thoughts are with everyone affected by it. “We are in close touch with Kenyan authorities about the attack in Nairobi. Our urgent priority is the welfare of UK nationals in Kenya.”

The atrocity was in the Westgate Mall, in the affluent Westlands district of Nairobi, which is popular with expats. The gunmen threw grenades and then opened fire, sending shoppers and staff fleeing for their lives.

One witness to the attack claimed the gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted. Elijah Kamau said the gunmen made the statement about Muslims as they began their attack.

Groups of people trapped inside the mall came streaming out over the course of an hour. Many were injured. Some carried children in their arms. Desperate staff from the mall used trolleys to wheel out wounded children and at least one man.

Witnesses spoke of the attackers lobbing hand grenades and opening fire as terrified shoppers dropped to the ground. Manish Turohit, 18, said he saw gunmen with AK-47s and vests with hand grenades on them. Initial reports suggested the attack may have been a bank robbery gone wrong. But Nairobi police chief Benson Kibue said it was a terrorist attack. Soldiers and armed police were still surrounding the mall hours after the midday attack.

Kenya has seen a rise in terror attacks and threats in recent years, some of which are believed to be in retaliation for a military crackdown on the Somali-based militant group al-Shabaab, which vowed to retaliate with a large-scale attack on Nairobi. The attacks often involve gunmen armed with automatic weapons and grenades, and their targets include bars, nightclubs and restaurants in various parts of the country.

There was a suspected al-Shabaab attack which left five dead and three injured at a restaurant in the eastern city of Garissa in January, and in August last year one person was killed and six more were left injured in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi on the eve of a visit by Hillary Clinton, then the United States secretary of state.

Last month 18 US embassies and consulates across the Middle East and Africa were closed after a message between al Qaida officials about plans for a major terror attack was intercepted. British nationals have been told to avoid the Westlands district of Nairobi in the wake of the attack.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are aware of the incident at the Westgate Mall shopping centre, and we are urgently looking into it. “We stand ready to provide consular assistance if there are any British nationals involved.” The Foreign Office updated the travel advice on its website to say: “British nationals should avoid the area”.