Death toll rises to 59 in Kenya attack
on 22/09/2013 11:08:28
Kenya's interior Cabinet secretary Joseph Lenku said that about 1,000 people have been rescued so far from the Westgate mall.
The gunmen remain inside with hostages nearly 24 hours after they launched the attack with grenades and assault rifles.
Mr Lenku said that there are 10 to 15 attackers involved.
He said Kenyan forces have control of the security cameras inside the mall. Combined military and police forces have surrounded the building.
The Somali militant group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack which targeted non-Muslims.
The Islamic extremist gunmen threw grenades and opened fire on shoppers in the mall yesterday. More bursts of gunfire was heard inside the mall today.
Terrified shoppers huddled in back hallways and prayed they would not be found when gunmen launchedd the attack. When the way appeared clear, crying mothers clutching small children and blood-splattered men sprinted out of the four-storey mall.
Foreigners were among the casualties. France's president said that two French women were killed.
American citizens were reported injured but not killed in the attack, the State Department said, but did not release further details.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called the security operation under way "delicate" and said a top priority was to safeguard hostages.
As the attack began shortly after noon yesterday, the al Qaida-linked gunmen asked the victims they had cornered if they were Muslim: Those who answered yes were free to go, several witnesses said. The non-Muslims were not.
Somalia's Islamic extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility and said the attack was retribution for Kenyan forces' 2011 push into Somalia. The rebels threatened more attacks.
Al-Shabab said on its Twitter feed that Kenyan security officials were trying to open negotiations. "There will be no negotiations whatsoever," al-Shabab tweeted.
As night fell in Kenya's capital, two contingents of army special forces troops moved inside the mall.
Police and military surrounded the huge shopping complex as helicopters buzzed overhead.
Witnesses said at least five gunmen - including at least one woman - first attacked an outdoor cafe at Westgate Mall, a new shopping centre that includes Nike, Adidas and Bose stores.
The mall's ownership is Israeli, and security experts have long said the structure made an attractive terrorist target.
The attack began shortly after noon with bursts of gunfire and grenades. Shoppers - expatriates and affluent Kenyans - fled in any direction that might be safe: into back corners of stores, back service hallways and bank vaults.
Over the next several hours, pockets of people trickled out of the mall as undercover police moved in. Some of the wounded were trundled out in shopping carts.
"We started by hearing gunshots downstairs and outside. Later we heard them come inside. We took cover. Then we saw two gunmen wearing black turbans. I saw them shoot," said Patrick Kuria, an employee at Artcaffe, a restaurant.
Frank Mugungu, an off-duty army sergeant major, said he saw four male attackers and one female attacker.
Al-Shabab, on its Twitter feed, said that it has many times warned Kenya's government that failure to remove its forces from Somalia "would have severe consequences". The group claimed that its gunmen had killed 100 people, but its assertions are often exaggerated.
The Twitter account was suspended shortly after its claim of responsibility and threats against Kenya.
Al-Shabab threatened in late 2011 to unleash a large-scale attack in Nairobi. Kenya has seen a regular spate of grenade attacks since then but never such a large terrorist assault.
The US State Department condemned "this senseless act of violence that has resulted in death and injury for many innocent men, women, and children".
In a separate statement, a White House spokeswoman said some staff at the US Embassy in Kenya have been "tragically affected" by the attack. No other information was provided.
"The perpetrators of this heinous act must be brought to justice, and we have offered our full support to the Kenyan Government to do so," Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said in the statement.
The US embassy in Nairobi said it was in contact with local authorities and offered assistance. Some British security personnel assisted in the response.
The gunmen carried AK-47s and wore vests with hand grenades on them, said Manish Turohit, 18, who hid in a parking garage for two hours.
"They just came in and threw a grenade. We were running and they opened fire. They were shouting and firing," he said after marching out of the mall in a line of 15 people who all held their hands in the air.
Dozens of people were wounded. A local hospital was overwhelmed with the number of wounded being brought in hours after the attack and diverted them to a second facility. Officials said Kenyans turned out in droves to donate blood.
The United Nations secretary-general's office said that Ban Ki-moon has spoken to Mr Kenyatta and expressed his concern. British Prime Minister David Cameron also called Mr Kenyatta and offered assistance.
The US State Department said later that four American citizens were reported injured, but not killed in the attack. Two Canadians were killed, including a diplomat, said the Canadian prime minister.