Unidentified gunmen stormed an upscale shopping mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, killing at least 30 people as the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.
More than 60 were injured, according to the Kenya Red Cross, in an assault that began at about 12:30 p.m. at the Westgate Mall in Westlands, 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) northwest of Nairobi’s city center. Kenyan security forces wounded one gunman and have “several others pinned down,” Police Inspector-General David Kimaiyo said on his Twitter account about eight hours after the raid started.
Today’s incident is the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya since 1998, when the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in downtown Nairobi killed 213 people. Al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group in neighboring Somalia, threatened to carry out attacks in Kenya after the country deployed its army to southern Somalia in October 2011 to fight the group.
“Al-Shabaab confirms it’s behind the Westgate spectacle,” the group said on its Twitter feed. “The Mujahideen entered Westgate Mall today at around noon and are still inside the mall, fighting the Kenyan Kuffar inside their own turf.”
An unknown number of hostages are being held in the Nakumatt supermarket at the mall, Abbas Gullet, secretary-general of the Kenya Red Cross, said in a phone interview from Nairobi.
“All the other floors have been cleared, apart from the Nakumatt which is the biggest shopping complex,” Gullet said. Gunmen or shoppers “could be in stair wells, we don’t know, and other places, we don’t know.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has spoken to President Uhuru Kenyatta and expressed his concern and offered his solidarity as the Kenyan authorities deal with the incident.
“The secretary-general is following closely and with alarm the attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi,” according to a statement published on the organization’s website.
The U.K. government is keeping “in close touch with Kenyan authorities about the attack,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on his official Twitter account. “Appalled by the attack and my thoughts are with everyone affected by it,” he said.
The attack began with several blasts and was followed by shooting, causing panicked shoppers to flee the building or try to hide. The attackers told Muslims they could go free and that non-Muslims were the target, the Associated Press reported, citing an eyewitness.
Marco Lui, a Bloomberg correspondent who was on the second floor of the mall when the attack started, said he heard two explosions within about five minutes of each other.
“We heard a noise from the ground floor and people started running to the parking area on the rooftop,” said Lui. “They were panicking and then the second blast went off and people were even more panicked.”
The gunmen entered through the main door of the mall and went on a shooting rampage, moving from the ground level to upper floors, according to an e-mailed statement from ArtCaffe, a restaurant in the mall.
“On hearing the gunfire, patrons and staff in the mall ran for cover at every level,” the company said.
Lui and a friend who were visiting the mall escaped by jumping over a fence on the roof and onto the first floor of a neighboring building. Both were unharmed.
Middle class Kenyans and expatriates frequent the shopping center which has more than 80 shops including bank outlets, a movie theater, restaurants and a children’s play area.
The mall’s website says the facility offers a “serene and safe environment away from the city center.”
Kenya is East Africa’s biggest economy and the world’s largest exporter of black tea.
To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Ombok in Nairobi at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Shaji Mathew at email@example.com