Kenya armed forces at Westgate Mall during the shooting and hostage standoff. The Al-Shabaab Islamic resistance movement says its fighters are involved in the attack., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2013
Death toll hits 59 as FBI and Israeli forces join battle to end siege at shopping mall
Security officials estimated that between 10 and 15 attackers were still holed up in the mall with about 36 hostages as at last evening
Raila, Musalia join Uhuru in rallying the country
Hundreds turn up to donate blood and offer help to injured
Muslim leaders condemn attack and appeal for peace
Security services mass forces for assault on hostage takers
Unknown number of hostages still held at Westgate by between 10 and 15 heavily-armed gunmen
By NATION TEAM
Kenyan troops backed by Israeli and FBI agents on Sunday battled to end a siege on Westgate Mall and free hostages held by Somali militants in an attack in which 59 people were killed and more than 175 injured.
On Sunday, the government estimated that between 10 and 15 attackers were still holed up in the mall with about 36 hostages.
The Kenya Red Cross estimated the injured at 200 and 49 still missing.
Sporadic gunfire rang out as security officials said they were trying to kill or capture the remaining attackers and end the 28-hour-long bloodbath at the Westgate mall.
“The Israelis have just entered and they are rescuing the hostages and the injured,” a Kenyan security source said. The Israeli foreign ministry refused to confirm or deny its forces were involved.
At 6.15pm, a Nation reporter at the scene said the helicopters surveying the scene were flying low and there was sustained gunfire in the building with the attackers reportedly holed up in a room with bulletproof glass.
The assault is understood to involve officers and soldiers from three units of the Kenya Defence Forces, the Regular and Administration police and the Anti-Terror Police Unit.
Nation reporters could identify officers and soldiers from the Gilgil-based 20 Para Battalion who are understood to be working with the Special Forces and their colleagues from the Rangers Strike Force.
Terrified witnesses recounted Saturday scenes of horror as the masked gunmen tossed grenades and sprayed automatic gunfire in the packed centre, sending panicked shoppers fleeing for their lives.
Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab militia said the carnage at the part Israeli-owned complex was in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia, where African Union troops are battling the Islamists.
“We have warned Kenya of that attack but it ignored (us), still forcefully holding our lands... while killing our innocent civilians,” Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage said in a statement.
“If you want Kenya in peace, it will not happen as long as your boys are in our lands.”
The group also issued a string of statements via Twitter, one of them claiming that Muslims in the centre had been “escorted out by the Mujahideen before beginning the attack”.
Muslims were among those mowed down by the attackers.
Interior minister Joseph ole Lenku said: “We believe there are some innocent people in the building, that is why the operation is delicate.”
Helicopters continued circling overhead and several truckloads of soldiers arrived at the scene.
Later in the day, two large mobile cranes were taken there, with fire engines from the Nairobi City Fire Brigade also coming and going.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a televised address to the nation on Sunday that he had lost his nephew and his fiancee in the attack. “These are lovely young people that I knew and loved,” he said.
And speaking at State House on Sunday while accompanied by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and former Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, the President said there were 10 to 15 armed terrorists inside the building as well as many unarmed, badly shaken and innocent civilians.
“Owing to the professional response of the various security agencies at the scene and the selflessness of countless Kenyans, more than 1,000 people were rescued from the Mall and attended to,” he said.
President Kenyatta said terror attack claimed 59 lives and injured more than 175 people.
The Westgate mall is popular with well-off Kenyans and expatriates, and was packed with around 1,000 shoppers when the masked gunmen marched in at midday on Saturday.
Among the dead were one South African, three Britons, two French citizens, two Canadians including a diplomat, a Chinese woman, two Indians and a South Korean, according to their governments. Also killed was Ghanaian poet and former UN envoy Kofi Awoonor, 78, while his son was injured.
US leader Barack Obama yesterday called President Kenyatta to express condolences to the government and Kenyans for the terrorist attack.
A statement from the US embassy said President Obama reiterated his support for Kenya’s efforts to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice.
Security agencies have long feared that the shopping centre could be targeted by Al-Qaeda-linked groups.
The attack, the worst in Nairobi since an Al-Qaeda bombing at the US embassy killed more than 200 people in 1998, was condemned by world powers and the UN.
After a day and night of sometimes ferocious gun battles, security sources said police and soldiers had finally “pinned down” the gunmen.
“We are still battling with the attackers and our forces have managed to maroon the attackers on one of the floors,” said Kenyan military spokesperson, Colonel Cyrus Oguna. “We hope to bring this to an end today (Sunday).”
Mall worker Zipporah Wanjiru, who emerged from the ordeal alive but in a state of shock, said she hid under a table with five other colleagues.
“They were shooting indiscriminately; it was like a movie seeing people sprayed with bullets like that,” she said, bursting into tears. “I have never witnessed this in my life. Only God can heal us and our country.”
Cafe waiter Titus Alede, who risked his life and leapt from the first floor of the mall, said it was a “miracle from God” that he managed to escape the approaching gunmen.
“I was serving a client and these men came. They were not after money as they were shooting people without asking for anything. I remember them saying ‘you killed our people in Somalia, it is our time to pay you back’,” he said.
One teenage survivor told how he played dead to avoid being killed. “I heard screams and gunshots all over the place. I got scared. I tried to run down the stairs and saw someone running towards the top, I ran back and hid behind one of the cars,” 18-year-old Umar Ahmed told AFP.
In the hours after the attack began, shocked people of all ages and races could be seen running from the mall, some clutching babies, while others crawled along walls to avoid stray bullets.
Reporting by Patrick Mayoyo, Zaddock Angira, John Ngirachu, AFP and Xinhua
September 22, 2013
Kenyans Move to End Siege of Mall In Nairobi
By NICHOLAS KULISH and JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
New York Times
NAIROBI, Kenya — Seeking to end a siege that has left scores dead and shaken the nation, the Kenyan government said Sunday night that it was pressing an assault against Shabab militant attackers who had been holed up in a Nairobi shopping mall for more than a day.
Late Sunday, the Kenyan military announced that it had retaken “most” of the Westgate mall — the attackers had been confined to the third floor since their initial assault on Saturday — and freed more hostages, though details could not be confirmed. Helicopters circled the mall building through the night, and occasional explosions and bursts of gunfire were heard above a rainstorm in the area.
“This will end tonight — our forces will prevail,” the police command center said in a Twitter post. “Kenyans are standing firm against aggression, and we will win.”
The Shabab, a militant group mostly based in neighboring Somalia, answered with messages of their own, including warning that “Kenyan forces who’ve just attempted a roof landing must know that they are jeopardizing the lives of all the hostages at #Westgate.”
Later, officials said that at least four members of the security forces had been wounded. But there were no other details about additional casualties on either side.
The attack on the mall deeply distressed Kenya, a nation that has grown in stature as a force against terrorism in East Africa. As the toll mounted — at least 68 were reported dead by late Sunday, with several people still unaccounted for — the potential for even greater loss of life seemed tangible.
Addressing the nation, President Uhuru Kenyatta sounded a note of solidarity in loss, revealing that his nephew and the man’s fiancée were among the dead. “These are young, lovely people I personally knew and loved,” Mr. Kenyatta said. “Many of us have lost loved ones. Let us mourn them all as one nation and keep them always in remembrance and prayer.”
He said security forces had rescued more than 1,000 people from the mall since the violence began on Saturday, calling the forces’ performance “remarkable and encouraging,” even as he asked for patience from the public as the standoff continued.
The assault on Westgate was the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 Qaeda truck bombing of the American Embassy in Nairobi that killed more than 200 people.
President Obama called Mr. Kenyatta on Sunday to reaffirm the “strong and historic partnership between the United States and Kenya.” That relationship has been strained by the election in March of Mr. Kenyatta, who is being prosecuted at the International Criminal Court on charges of financing death squads during an outbreak of political violence in 2007. Mr. Obama skipped visiting Kenya, his father’s birthplace, on his trip to Africa in late June.
The Shabab have said that they staged the mall attack as retribution for the Kenyan military presence in Somalia, where Kenyan troops have driven Shabab fighters out of much of the territory they once controlled. A confidential United Nations security report described the assault on the mall as two-pronged, with groups of gunmen attacking on different floors simultaneously.
Joseph Ole Lenku, the cabinet secretary for the interior, said that from 10 to 15 attackers were inside the mall. Mr. Kenyatta said he could neither confirm nor deny reports that one or more of the attackers were women. The Shabab claimed in a Twitter post that several of the attackers were Americans; a senior law enforcement official in the United States said the Federal Bureau of Investigation had yet to establish whether that claim was true, and that it would be difficult to do so until all the attackers were captured or killed.
The number of bystanders remaining in the building was not as clear, though the Kenya Red Cross, citing the police as its source, said Sunday that 49 people were unaccounted for, raising the prospect of a significantly higher death toll before the crisis ends.
The American official said that the F.B.I. had offered assistance to the Kenyan authorities and that F.B.I. agents were at the Kenyan command post at the scene. There were reports that Israelis were supporting the Kenyan authorities as well; a spokeswoman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry said she could not comment. The secretary general of Interpol, Ronald K. Noble, said in a statement that his agency had offered to send a response team, including forensic and counterterrorism experts.
Mr. Kenyatta said that he had received “numerous offers of assistance from friendly countries; for the time being, however, this remains an operation of the Kenyan security agencies.”
Among those killed in the mall were three Britons, the British Foreign Office confirmed Sunday. Five Americans were among the wounded, but none were known to have been killed. News agencies reported that other foreigners were also among the dead.
As the identities of victims began to emerge on Sunday, the public mourning of a national tragedy began.
One of those killed was Ruhila Adatia-Sood, a popular Kenyan radio host who was in the parking lot of the mall hosting a cooking competition, according to reports. She posted several photos on her Instagram account before the attack.
Also among the dead was Kofi Awoonor, 78, a Ghanaian poet and former professor at the University of Ghana.
Hundreds of relatives and friends of people who were in the mall went to hospitals around the city that were treating the wounded, trying to ascertain the fate of their loved ones.
At the M P Shah Hospital a few miles away from the mall, distressed relatives milled around a tent erected for them outside the building, as volunteers worked to assist them.
Ruth Nyambura, 26, whose uncle worked at the Nakumatt Supermarket in Westgate at the time of the attack, said she was terrified.
“I have come along with my family just to find out how he’s doing,” Ms. Nyambura said. “He was shot in the head, suffered severe wounds on his one of his eyes and his arms. He was operated on yesterday, and we’ve come to see him again. We are being told to wait because the queue is too long.”
Kenya’s political class, often starkly divided, has demonstrated unity since the attack. Raila Odinga, a former prime minister and a political opponent of Mr. Kenyatta, joined him in an appearance at the State House on Sunday.
“This is a trying moment for our country,” Mr. Odinga said. “It is something that has hit at the very heart of our country’s unity. Our people must come together at times like this to help each other.”In his address on Sunday, Mr. Kenyatta, too, appealed for unity. “We have ashamed and defeated our attackers,” he said. “Let us continue to wage a relentless moral war as our forces conduct a physical battle. We shall triumph.”
Reporting was contributed by Reuben Kyama and Tyler Hicks from Nairobi; Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem; Mark Mazzetti from Washington; Mohammed Ibrahim from Mogadishu, Somalia; and William K. Rashbaum from New York.