Mall mas­sacre racks Kenya

Gun­men strike high- end mall; at least 39 dead, dozens in­jured

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - ONCE OVER - By Su­darsan Ragha­van — tweet from So­mali mili­tia al- Shabab, which claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack See slide show of may­hem at mall in Nairobi

NAIROBI, Kenya — Gun­men stormed a pop­u­lar high- end shop­ping mall in the Kenyan cap­i­tal Satur­day af­ter­noon, lob­bing grenades and fir­ing weapons in an at­tack that left at least 39 peo­ple dead and more than 150 in­jured, Kenyan of­fi­cials said.

As of early Sun­day, more than 12 hours af­ter the ini­tial as­sault, the at­tack­ers, strapped with grenades and wield­ing ma­chine guns and AK- 47 ri­fles, re­mained holed up with scores of hostages in a su­per­mar­ket within the West­gate Pre­mier Shop­ping Mall, ex­chang­ing gun­fire with Kenyan po­lice and soldiers.

Al- Shabab, a So­mali mili­tia linked to alQaida, as­serted re­spon­si­bil­ity for the as­sault in nu­mer­ous tweets us­ing its of­fi­cial Twit­ter han­dle, @ HSM_ Press. The mili­tia said it was re­tal­i­at­ing for Kenya send­ing troops to fight in neigh­bour­ing So­ma­lia, where it re­mains a key mil­i­tary ac­tor. “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,” the mili­tia said in one tweet.

The dead and in­jured in­cluded young and old, Kenyans and for­eign­ers, ac­cord­ing to wit­nesses and a U. S. State Depart­ment of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion, who was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly. No Amer­i­cans were be­lieved to be among the dead, the of­fi­cial said, but at least three were in­jured.

Sev­eral chil­dren were re­ported killed or in­jured.

An­na­maria Wa­trin, an Amer­i­can aid worker from Min­nesota, said a friend and his 13- year- old daugh­ter had gone to the mall for a birth­day party. “As they went to park their car, she saw five gun­men pop out. They shot her dad. He died,” Wa­trin said. The girl was in­jured. Wa­trin said the girl spent a cou­ple of hours hud­dled in the car be­fore Kenyan se­cu­rity agents could evac­u­ate her into an am­bu­lance.

The as­sault was the dead­li­est ter­ror­ist at­tack in this East Africa na­tion since al- Qaida op­er­a­tives staged twin bomb­ings of the U. S. em­bassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tan­za­nia, in 1998, killing more than 200 peo­ple in Kenya alone. Al- Shabab has staged nu­mer­ous smaller at­tacks in the coun­try since the govern­ment sent troops to So­ma­lia in Oc­to­ber 2011 to fight the mili­tia. Most of those as­saults tar­geted bus sta­tions and churches, but never ar­eas fre­quented by western­ers or wealthy Kenyans. The tourism in­dus­try is Kenya’s sec­ond- largest source of for­eign ex­change, and dozens of western aid agen­cies and busi­nesses are based in the coun­try.

Now, Satur­day’s at­tack has ap­peared to usher in a new war on its soil for Kenya, long a bul­wark of sta­bil­ity in the re­gion and a key U. S. ally in fight against ter­ror­ism.

The mili­tia also or­ches­trated twin bomb­ings in Kam­pala, Uganda, dur­ing the World Cup in July 2010, killing more than 70 peo­ple. That at­tack, the mili­tia said, was in re­tal­i­a­tion for the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Ugan­dan soldiers in an African force sent to pro­tect So­ma­lia’s govern­ment.

In a na­tion­ally tele­vised ad­dress, Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta vowed to hunt down the per­pe­tra­tors.

“We have over­come ter­ror­ist at­tacks be­fore. We will de­feat them again,” Keny­atta said, adding some of his close rel­a­tives were among the dead.

The scene at the mall Satur­day af­ter­noon was chaotic.

“We have taken so many to the hos­pi­tal,” said Zulekha Khalid, a Kenyan Red Cross

‘ 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’

worker tak­ing cover be­hind a po­lice truck as a bar­rage of bul­lets was fired from the di­rec­tion of the mall.

The Kenyan Red Cross said at least 30 peo­ple were dead and more than 60 were in­jured in the at­tack but ex­pected the tolls to rise. Keny­atta said the death toll had reached 39 with more than 150 in­jured.

The pres­i­den­tial of­fice said in a tweet a wounded at­tacker had been taken into cus­tody and was hos­pi­tal­ized but died of his in­juries. Po­lice had ear­lier char­ac­ter­ized the as­sault as a rob­bery gone wrong, but se­nior Kenyan of­fi­cials later said it was likely a ter­ror­ist at­tack.

Some wit­nesses and se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said the as­sailants, dressed in dark clothes, num­bered no more than five, while oth­ers said there were as many 10 or 15. Wit­nesses said one was a woman who wore a hi­jab, at­tire favoured by con­ser­va­tive Mus­lim women.

Ac­cord­ing to sev­eral ac­counts, in­clud­ing one re­layed to a Wash­ing­ton Post re­porter, the at­tack­ers had or­dered Mus­lims to leave the premises in an ap­par­ent at­tempt to tar­get nonMus­lims.

By early evening, the at­tack­ers were on an up­per floor of the mall, hold­ing hostages, ac­cord­ing to po­lice of­fi­cials and se­cu­rity of­fi­cers at the scene. Scores of peo­ple re­mained in­side, hud­dling in stores, banks, even clos­ets. Out­side, their rel­a­tives fran­ti­cally sent them text mes­sages, com­fort­ing them as best as they could.

Ear­lier, many had fil­tered out with the help of se­cu­rity per­son­nel, their faces re­veal­ing the anguish of their or­deal. Some col­lapsed on the as­phalt, while oth­ers had to be car­ried out, cov­ered in blood from bul­let wounds. Am­bu­lances waited out­side to ferry the wounded to hos­pi­tals.

Out­side the mall en­trance, two bod­ies lay on the ground, next to cars pep­pered with bul­let holes.

Christopher Wa­malwa, a mem­ber of Kenya’s par­lia­ment, said: “My wife and two kids are in­side. They are locked in­side a store, and gun­men are shoot­ing around them.” Wa­malwa said he had spo­ken with his wife by cell­phone.

Matthew Den Dulk said his wife was hid­ing in one of the banks in the mall.

“My wife told me there’s a large group of peo­ple armed to the teeth with grenades and AK- 47s,” Den Dulk said.

In Wash­ing­ton, the State Depart­ment is­sued a state­ment con­demn­ing what it called “a sense­less act of vi­o­lence” and say­ing it had re­ceived re­ports of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens in­jured in the at­tack.

Many mid­dle- class Kenyans and ex­pa­tri­ates have long voiced con­cern about a pos­si­ble at­tack on West­gate and other up­scale shop­ping cen­tres and restau­rants in Nairobi. Guards at the malls check ve­hi­cles for ex­plo­sives and use hand- held me­tal scans on shop­pers, but they are mostly un­armed, in­ca­pable of re­spond­ing to a heav­ily armed at­tack.

Al- Shabab said in tweets that “what Kenyans are wit­ness­ing at West­gate is re­tribu­tive jus­tice for crimes com­mit­ted by their mil­i­tary.”

The mili­tia said it was in con­tact with the as­sailants in­side the mall and ruled out ne­go­ti­a­tions for the re­lease of the hostages.

— Wash­ing­ton Post TOP: A woman who had been hid­ing dur­ing the gun bat­tle runs for cover af­ter armed po­lice, seen be­hind, en­ter the West­gate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Satur­day. ABOVE: A wounded man is es­corted out­side the mall. LEFT: A wounded woman is helped to safety out­side the mall.




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