Kenya's president indicates terrorists' siege of Nairobi mall has ended
The gunfire, carnage, hostage-taking lasts four days
A nice day with a kids' cooking contest becomes nightmarish as gunmen storm upscale mall
The complex now evokes war imagery, with three collapsed floors trapping bodies
A military standoff with terrorists at a Kenyan mall was apparently drawing to a close Tuesday after four days of carnage left at least 61 civilians and six security officers dead.
Five terrorists were killed, and 11 other suspects are in custody, Kenya’s president said. About 175 people were injured, he said.
As authorities indicated the siege was all but over, many questions will have to be answered, such as did the terrorists include Americans, a British subject and a Canadian national, as claimed by Al-Shabaab, the Islamic extremists who took responsibility for the gun attack.
For now, Kenya reels from a horrific terror attack at Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall – frequented by well-to-do Kenyans and the expatriate community – which began just after high noon Saturday.
Day One: Saturday
It was a nice day at the 80-store mall. A cooking competition was held for youths, perhaps some aspiring to become chefs. Visitors stocked up on staples at a supermarket or sipped coffee at a cafe.
Without warning, gunmen stormed the mall, shooting people outside the five-story structure and then inside it. Shoppers said they also heard grenades exploding.
Other witnesses described it “like a Hollywood-action scene,” said hospital volunteer Abiti Shah.
Mall customers crawled beneath cars in the parking lot and found cover in stairwells and a women’s bathroom, presumably because the gunmen would be reluctant to look in that gender’s restrooms.
Attackers went from store to store, taking hostages or randomly firing upon people. Gunmen asked customers whether they were Muslim. The terrorists apparently allowed people of that faith to escape from the mall.
The chaos included an unclear report on deaths. Finally, by day’s end, 39 people were counted as killed – a number that would grow.
Several hours into the terror assault, an al-Qaeda offshoot in neighboring Somalia called Al-Shabaab used its Twitter account to claim responsibility. Authorities now learned who they were dealing with, and the international community condemned the terror, including the Kenyan president whose nephew and his fiancée were among those killed.
Day Two: Sunday
The terrorists continued their siege of the mall, and confusion prevailed over the number of deaths and hostages.
Security forces decided to launch a “major assault” on the mall, police said.
As another violent day unfolded, “most of the hostages” were rescued, and security forces took control of “most parts” of the mall, the Kenyan military said.
Gunfire punctuated the day. Between the bullets are moments of silence. Soldiers surrounded the mall.
Authorities numbered the gunmen involved in the attack: 10 to 15 attackers. Further, unconfirmed reports emerged on who they could be: As many as three are from the United States, two are from Somalia and one each from Canada, Finland, Kenya and the United Kingdom. That information came from sources within Al-Shabaab who spoke to CNN about nine names published on Twitter who were purported to be the alleged hostage-takers.
CNN couldn’t independently confirm that claim by Al-Shabaab.
“All efforts are underway to bring this matter to a speedy conclusion,” the Kenyan military said.
Day Three: Monday
The first announcement about deaths on the other side of the siege is made: Three terrorists have been killed, authorities said.
So far, more than 200 civilians have been rescued, they added. But 11 Kenyan soldiers have been wounded, the military said.
Kenyan officials reassured the world that they were in control of the mall. The terrorists have little chance of escape, authorities said.
But sporadic gunfire sent aid workers and journalists running for cover. Inside the mall, the terrorists ignited a fire, spewing heavy smoke throughout the afternoon.
“We’re not here to feed the attackers with pastries but to finish and punish them,” Kenyan police Inspector General David Kimaiyo warned on Twitter.
Even away from the mall, the country faced intensified security. At various locations, more than 10 people were taken into custody for questioning about the attack, including at least four people from an airport.
Authorities released a few details about the death toll: Most of the dead were apparently Kenyans, but the slain included six British citizens, two French nationals, two Indians and two Canadians, including a diplomat, their governments said.
Among the 175 people wounded were five Americans, the State Department said.
In response to the unconfirmed claim that the terrorists included Americans, U.S. authorities reviewed intelligence reports for evidence of a U.S. connection to the attack, law enforcement sources said. But a senior U.S. official said the claim wasn’t looking too solid.
Final Day? Tuesday
As the world anxiously awaited a conclusion to the terrorists’ siege of the mall, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced forces killed five terrorists at the mall and arrested 11 others for possible ties to the attack.
“We have ashamed and defeated our attackers,” the president said.
That announcement, however, didn’t answer important questions: were there foreign nationals among the terrorists, what happened to the hostages and what’s the status of the 65 people that the Red Cross says are unaccounted for?
Identification of some victims provided glimpses into the terrorists’ alleged barbarity: A pregnant Dutch woman expecting her first child in October was killed, along with her husband architect who was building hospitals and clinics for free. Another woman, who was seven months pregnant, was slain. A boy, age 8, was dead, along with his father.
The material condition of the besieged mall evoked a war scene: three floors of the mall collapsed during the government’s counter-offensive against the terrorists, trapping bodies inside, the president said.
Those trapped bodied include terrorists, Kenyatta said.
“Our attackers wish to destroy the essential character of our society. They failed,” Kenyatta said. “Kenya endures.”