September 21, 2013 – 22 Dead in Upscale Kenya Mall Attack: Turban-wearing gunmen on Saturday burst into an upscale shopping mall here, witnesses said, opening fire and throwing grenades in an apparent terror attack that has left scores dead.
Sporadic gunfire continued to sound into the afternoon as police and soldiers took over the parking lot surrounding Westgate Mall, crowded with family shoppers. Security forces pushed inside to evacuate those still hiding in shops and stairwells.
By late afternoon Saturday, the Kenyan Red Cross released a brief statement saying 22 people had been killed in the shooting. More than a dozen ambulances left the site with wounded people inside. The death toll is expected to rise with police heading to the top floors to confront assailants, who are believed to be holding hostages.
No one immediately claimed responsibility, but witnesses said the attackers seemed foreign and that it didn’t appear to be a robbery.
“I saw two men with white turbans and guns,” said George Onyango, who managed to run out of the mall and hide in his car as the attackers ran in. He said they were shouting in a foreign language, which he described as the language of Somali militants. He said the attackers were running up to the top floor.
Another witness, 59-year old French national Marcel Hale, said he saw a bearded gunman shooting toward him and yelling, “Allahu Akbar!” Arabic for “God is Great!” Mr. Hale managed to escape unharmed with his wife.
The assault on a target popular with affluent locals and foreign tourists recalled the 2008 Mumbai attacks, where Pakistan-trained militants raided luxury hotels and a Jewish center, taking non-Muslim hostages and killing 166 people.
As the attack unfolded in Nairobi, a twitter site associated with Somalia’s al-Shabaab militant group posted: “Remember Mumbai? Some youngsters resist death even when told not to be taken alive. It’s going to be a long ordeal in #Westgate.”
Al Shabaab has long said that it was planning a major attack in Nairobi [Kenya].
Police officials declined to speculate who had carried out the attack, saying they were still gathering information.
“The whole thing is ongoing,” said Nairobi Police Chief Benson Kibue. “We cannot comment on who the attackers are until we have got them.”
It wasn’t clear how many assailants there were, but a policeman at the site, who declined to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media, said there was more than one car full of men.
Westgate mall is a regular weekend lunch and shopping destination for affluent Kenyans and foreigners working at nearby embassies in Nairobi. Guards at the main entrance use metal detectors to check for weapons and search handbags before shoppers enter a common precaution in high-crime Nairobi. The entrance itself is not reinforced or protected from the street.
Naeem Biviji, a 34-year-old who owns a furniture company along with his wife, said they had been having lunch at one of the mall’s outdoor cafes two friends visiting from England when they heard shooting and dove for the floor. They crawled to a stairwell and eventually ran out a side entrance, his wife Bethan carrying their seven-month-old baby in her arms.
“We heard a lot of shooting and then one or two big booms,” said Mr. Biviji. Neither one saw the attackers.
The head of security at the Westgate said he wasn’t clear who the attackers were, either. “We don’t know if they are gangsters” or militants, said the Westgate security chief, Tony Sahni.
Although small-scale grenade attacks have taken place recently in Kenya’s capital, large-scale and organized assaults are rare. Militant group al Shabaab has long threatened attacks against Kenya, however. Kenya has dispatched peacekeepers to neighboring Somalia to push insurgents out of the capital Mogadishu and protect a recently-elected Somali government. (Credits – the WSJ).
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