Kenyan president declares siege over

‘We have shamed and defeated our attackers’

A soldier who took part in the ground floor operations inside the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi said Kenyan forces provided  covering fire but had met no hostile fire in return as they searched the vast complex room by room. Photograph: Noor Khamis/Reuters

A soldier who took part in the ground floor operations inside the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi said Kenyan forces provided covering fire but had met no hostile fire in return as they searched the vast complex room by room. Photograph: Noor Khamis/Reuters

 


The four-day siege at Kenya’s Westgate shopping mall is over, the country’s president has said in a strongly worded statement of defiance against the terrorist threat to the east African nation.

“We have shamed and defeated our attackers,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta in a televised address to the nation. “That part of our task has been completed by our multi-agency security team – Kenya has stared down evil and triumphed.”

Declaring three days of mourning, Mr Kenyatta said the nation had experienced immense loss and praised Kenyan solidarity in response to the attack.

He said that 61 civilians and six members of the security forces had been killed, with a further 62 injured in hospital. Towards the end of the operation, three floors of the complex collapsed and some bodies – including those of some of the terrorists – remained in the rubble, he said.

“I promise that we shall have full accountability for the mindless destruction, deaths, pain, loss and suffering we have all undergone as a national family. These cowards will meet justice, as will their accomplices, wherever they are.”


Nationality of terrorists
But while he said “the worst” of the crisis was now over, it was unclear whether Kenyan security forces had finally accounted for all the militants after four days of explosions and gunfire at the mall.

Mr Kenyatta also failed to quell intense speculation that a British woman and several American citizens may have been among the attackers, saying this could not be confirmed.

“Intelligence reports had suggested that a British woman and two or three American citizens may have been involved. We cannot confirm the details at present,” said the president. Forensic experts were working to ascertain the nationalities of the terrorists, he added.

A Kenyan security source said that sporadic blasts heard at the mall during the day were controlled explosions carried out by bomb disposal teams, while other units had been assisting paramedics to recover bodies.

“After the bombs and the exchanges of fire the whole place is a mess,” he said. “There’s burned-out shops and debris everywhere.”

But that version of events was challenged on Tuesday when al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group al Shabaab – which has claimed responsibility for the attack – published a photograph which it claimed showed militants still in control of parts of the shopping mall. Witnesses also reported seeing KDF (Kenya defence forces) personnel on the roof of the mall.

An al-Shebaab spokesman in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, denied a woman had taken part in the attack. “It’s a groundless lie that a female was among the mujahideen attackers,” said the spokesman. “It is all about propaganda disseminated by western media outlets.”

A separate source said that 10 of the suspected attackers being held by Kenyan authorities are of Somali ethnic origin. The source said the suspects, all men, were found wearing civilian clothes and claim to have been hiding from the militants.


CCTV footage analysed

An official involved in the operation said Kenyan authorities were studying CCTV footage of people entering the mall in the hours leading up to the attack.

A soldier who took part in the ground floor operations inside Westgate said Kenyan forces were providing covering fire but had met no hostile fire in return as they searched the vast complex room by room.

Smoke was seen billowing from the mall area which the government said was the result of attackers burning mattresses inside. Witnesses said the smoke was clearly coming from the car park area, prompting theories that the KDF were trying to burn their way into the mall through the roof.

Images of the rescue mission were beginning to emerge. Film footage by one freelance journalist showed terrified shoppers leaving the mall with their hands above their heads.

At one point a man was seen crawling on his belly to rescue a woman with two small children, clearly in shock, who had cowered motionless beside a food stall. The footage also showed people with serious injuries and chest wounds being wheeled out on ambulances. – (Guardian service)