On Saturday, several masked men with shot guns seized an upmarket shopping mall in Kenya’s capital Nairobi killing at least 40 people and wounded more than 150. It is considered to be one of the most terrifying terrorist attacks in East Africa since Al Qaeda blew up two American embassies in 1998.
Kenya’s president announced on national TV that 39 people, including some of his close relatives, were confirmed dead in the attack.
There were a lot of foreign citizens among the victims. According to the reports two French women were killed. The Canadian Prime Minister confirmed the death of two Canadians. Reportedly four American citizens were injured but not killed in the attack, the State Department said Saturday.
Around 68 casualties were taken to the Aga Khan hospital in Nairobi, said a worker at the hospital. Bancy Wanjiru added that among them were six white foreigners whom she believed were British nationals.
According the witness the mall was attacked by at least dozen gunmen, including at least one woman, who first stormed an outdoor cafe at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.
The attackers split into two groups, one running up the steps and into the main pedestrian entrance. The other team opened fire and ran around to the vehicle entrance at the side of the building, hurling grenades.
Then witness said that the shooting lasted for about 30 seconds that came after a period of tense quiet in the standoff that continued as the sun rose on Sunday.
The mall, called Westgate, is a symbol of Kenya’s rising prosperity, an impressive five-story building where Kenyans can buy expensive cups of frozen yogurt and plates of sushi.
On Saturdays, it is especially crowded, and American officials have long warned that Nairobi’s malls were ripe targets for terrorists, especially Westgate, because a cafe on the ground floor, right off the street, is owned by Israelis, reports the NY Times.
On Saturday afternoon, al-Jazeera reported that the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabaab had said it carried out an attack. Al-Shabaab said it was in contact with the “Mujahideen” gunmen and said the mass shooting was justice for crimes committed by Kenyan troops in Somalia.
Al-Shabaab used Twitter to say: “For long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land, now it’s time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land.”
Police tweeted that the attackers “have been isolated and pinned down in a room by security forces.” And Joseph Ole Lenku, the national government’s cabinet secretary for interior and coordination, hinted that the worst should be over.
“Our security forces have taken control of the situation,” Lenku said.
“Attackers of Westgate shopping mall have been isolated and pinned down in a room by security forces in the ongoing operation,” the national police said on Twitter.
Later the Kenyan Presidency confirmed via Twitter that one of the gunmen involved in the terroristic attack at the shopping mall died from gunshot wounds shortly after he was arrested by Kenyan security forces.
Kenya is no stranger to terrorism, including a 1998 bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi that left 213 dead and other attacks before and since tied to al Qaeda and related groups.
In a televised speech late Saturday, Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta said his nation has “overcome” such attacks before, refusing to budge from its values or relinquish his security. And it will do so again, he promised.