Bomb disposal experts and investigators searched through the wreckage of a Kenyan shopping mall today after a four-day attack by Islamist militants that killed at least 72 people.
President Uhuru Kenyatta declared three days of mourning after troops defeated the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group that targeted the upscale shopping centre popular with prosperous Kenyans and foreigners.
The militants stormed the mall, known for its Western shops selling iPads and Nike shoes, in a hail of gunfire and grenades on Saturday lunchtime. The attack ended yesterday when Kenyan troops set off a series of explosions inside the building.
Mr Kenyatta said five militants and six security personnel were killed and 61 civilians had so far been confirmed dead but an unknown number of corpses are buried under the masonry.
Three floors collapsed after the blasts and a separate fire weakened the structure of the vaulted, marble-tiled building. Officials said the blaze was due to militants lighting mattresses as a decoy.
“Forensic investigators are on the site now,” said a senior official from the National Disaster Operations Centre, speaking near the mall and adding that foreign agents were on the scene. He did not identify the agents.
Al Shabaab, which said it launched the assault to demand Kenya withdraw its troops fighting with African peacekeepers in Somalia, said hostages were killed when Kenyan troops used gas to clear to the mall. Officials dismissed this as "propaganda".
Mr Kenyatta has said Kenyan forces would not quit Somalia.
“We have ashamed and defeated our attackers,” he said in a televised address yesterday.
Israel has sent advisers to help the search, according to an Israeli source. The United States also has FBI personnel on the ground. Others countries including Britain have offered help. Several foreigners have been listed among the dead.
The attack has highlighted the reach of the Somali group and the capabilities of its crack unit believed to be behind the attack, confirming Western and regional fears that as long as Somalia remains in turmoil it will be a recruiting and training ground for militant Islam.
“The bodies are still lying there in the rubble. We don’t know how many exactly,” said the NDOC official.
“The investigators will be looking to see what information they can extract to identify the terrorists and their nationalities, including DNA tests,” he said, after Kenyan officials said the attack was a “multinational” operation.
Eleven people suspected of involvement with the well-planned assault were in custody but he did not say how many, if any, were gunmen taken alive and how many may have been people arrested elsewhere.
A British national arrested in Nairobi is “not of significant interest” to the investigation Britain’s top diplomat in Kenya said today.
The Foreign Office in London confirmed the comment by British High Commissioner Christian Turner, which had appeared on media websites, but provided no further details
Al Shabaab denied that any women took part in the siege, after sources said the fugitive widow of one of the 2005 London suicide bombers might have had some role.
Smoke still rose into the damp air this morning above the Israeli-built mall that had been a symbol of Africa’s economic rise that has drawn in foreign investors.