Kenyan security forces moved to end a siege by Islamist militants of an upscale mall that left at least 62 people dead after security forces killed six gunmen and freed an unspecified number of hostages.
“We have triumphed,” the Kenya Police said in a statement on its Twitter feed this morning before an explosion and more gunfire were heard from the Westgate Mall. A body was carried out of the shopping center shortly afterward, the Associated Press reported. President Uhuru Kenyatta is set to address the nation later, the police said.
Kenyan television stations broadcast images showing smoke still coming out of the building. At least six gunmen have been killed and there is continuing gunfire, Nation TV reported. More than 10 suspects were arrested at an airport in the country for questioning about the raid, the Interior Ministry said, without providing further details.
The attack that began on Sept. 21 was the deadliest in the country since a 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in downtown Nairobi killed 213 people. Al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamist militant group, claimed responsibility for the raid. The group had threatened to strike after Kenya deployed troops in Somalia in October 2011 to fight the militants blamed for a series of kidnappings and the murder of a British tourist in Kenya. Al-Shabaab denied the accusations.
Police and army troops occupy every level of the building, and security forces are at the “tail-end” of the operation to end the siege, Interior Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku said yesterday. The death toll was revised down from an earlier figure of 69 as a result of “double-counted” bodies, Kenya Red Cross said on its Twitter feed.
The incident began when armed assailants burst into the mall, tossing hand grenades and spraying gunfire. At least 63 people are missing, the Kenya Red Cross said.
The attackers, all of them male and some of whom were dressed in female clothing, are “a multinational collection” of people, Kenya Chief of Defense Forces General Julius Karangi said yesterday.
Two or three Americans and a female British citizen participated in the attack, Kenyan Foreign Secretary Amina Mohamed told PBS’s “NewsHour” yesterday.
Earlier yesterday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in New York that the U.S. was looking into the attackers’ nationalities and that there was no “definitive evidence” yet of their identities. Finnish police are investigating whether a person with a connection to Finland was involved in the assault, the Interior Ministry said.
A series of large explosions and gunfire rocked the upscale mall at about 1:15 p.m. yesterday. Shortly afterward, an army tank and dozens of soldiers, some of them carrying heavy machine guns, moved along the main access road to the complex as smoke billowed from the building. The attackers had set fire to a Nakumatt supermarket in the mall to create a distraction and possibly escape, Karangi said. Authorities have surrounded the building, he said.
The shilling gained 0.2 percent to 87.38 per dollar by 9:25 a.m. in Nairobi, reversing yesterday’s decline. On the Nairobi Securities Exchange, the FTSE NSE 25 Index dropped for the first time in five days, falling 0.2 percent to 164.28.
Accelerating growth in Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, and its reputation as a relatively stable democracy has made the country a regional hub for companies including Toyota Motor Corp. and Google Inc. Nairobi is also the African headquarters for the United Nations.
Kenya’s prestige has already been shaken by International Criminal Court indictments of Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, for their alleged involvement in crimes against humanity. The men are accused of organizing violence following a disputed election in 2007, charges both deny. More than 1,100 people were killed in two months of ethnic and political clashes.
Kenyatta, who lost a nephew in the attack, vowed to hunt down the attackers.
“We will punish the masterminds swiftly and painfully,” Kenyatta, 51, said in a nationally televised press briefing on Sept. 22. Foreigners including six Britons, a French mother and daughter, two Canadians, a South African, a Chinese, and Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor are confirmed among the dead.
The Westgate Mall caters to wealthy Kenyans and expatriates with about 80 businesses that include cafes, a casino, a multiscreen movie theater and a children’s play area. Survivors of the attack hid in air vents, supply closets and bathrooms for hours and found different ways to escape including jumping onto a next-door building or were escorted by security officials, some clutching children and crying.
World leaders and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have condemned the attacks and offered to help. President Barack Obama called Kenyatta on Sept. 22 to express his condolences and reiterate U.S. support to bring the attackers to justice, according to a statement from the White House.