Kenyan Forces Work To Free Hostages At Nairobi Mall
Last updated:September 22, 2013 10:19 am
Kenyan forces work to free hostages at Nairobi mall
By Katrina Manson in Nairobi
Kenyan authorities on Sunday said they were working to free hostages in an upmarket shopping centre in Nairobi, a day after gunmen killed at least 59 people in the country’s worst terrorist attack in more than a decade.
The attack on Saturday targeted the Westgate mall, which is popular with affluent Kenyans and expatriates, including diplomats and businessmen. The Kenyan government said the country’s president had lost several family members in the terrorist attack, which left at least 300 injured. The UK said that at least three British nationals had been confirmed dead.
The stand-off between the Kenyan security forces and the terrorists continued on Sunday. The Kenyan interior ministry said that between 10 and 15 terrorists were still inside the shopping mall in two different locations, holding an undetermined number of hostages. “We have established the location of the criminals. It’s a delicate balance and we want to evacuate the hostages safely,” said the ministry of interior on its Twitter account.
Kenyan authorities had stopped their updates, saying that the terrorists were monitoring social media. Cars and ambulances carrying casualties continued to arrive early on Sunday to a makeshift hospital outside the shopping centre. At least one hostage was freed.
British and Israeli officials are also believed to be helping the Kenyan authorities in Nairobi. “Mossad, British – everyone is in there,” Kenya military colonel Justin Mwinde told the Financial Times. Asked about the participation of Israeli advisers in the negotiating strategy, a senior Israeli official declined to confirm or deny the reports, but he said: “We are willing to help any friendly nation in the combat against terrorism.”
Westgate, which describes itself as “Nairobi’s premier mall”, is a symbol of Kenya’s rapid economic growth over the last decade, and includes a cinema and 80 shops and restaurants over five floors.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta vowed in a televised address on Saturday night to fight the terrorists. “I have personally lost family members in the Westgate attack,” he said as he addressed the nation, adding: “We shall hunt down the perpetrators, we shall get them, and we shall punish them for this heinous crime.”
Although the president did not blame any particular group, attention has turned to al-Qaeda-affiliated militants al-Shabaab in Somalia. Kenya sent troops into its neighbouring country two years ago as part of a UN-backed mission to push back al-Shabaab. The Islamist group had promised retaliation.
The Somali group, in Twitter messages on Sunday that could not be corroborated, said the Kenyan government had renewed calls for negotiation. It said: “We’ll not negotiate with the Kenyan govt as long as its forces are invading our country, so reap the bitter fruits of your harvest #Westgate.”
Experts said a homegrown group affiliated to al-Shabaab could be behind the attack, or at least have provided logistical support for it, rather than al-Shabaab directly. A UN report published this year said Kenyans made up many of the foreign fighters with al-Shabaab and noted that several other domestic fundamentalist groups operated in Kenya.
The attack is the worst in Kenya since al-Qaeda bombed the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in twin attacks in 1998, killing more than 200 people and injuring hundreds. Kenya is reliant on safari tourism, and the attacks – if confirmed as al-Qaeda-linked terrorism – could hit the industry, derailing growth in east Africa’s largest economy.
Kenya is also a key trading hub in the continent, and an ally of western countries in security matters in the volatile Horn of Africa, a region that includes Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The White House, in a statement, said the US condemned “in the strongest terms the despicable terrorist attack”. John Kerry, US secretary of state, said in a separate statement that there were no reports of any Americans killed, but the wife of a US Agency for International Development employee died in the attack.
William Hague, UK foreign secretary, told the BBC that “undoubtedly” British nationals had been caught up in the attack. He called the terrorist onslaught “callous and cowardly and brutal”.
Canada said that two of its citizens, including a diplomat, were killed, and France confirmed two French nationals were also among the dead.
The onslaught in Nairobi resembles the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in India, in which Pakistani militants targeted public spaces including an upmarket hotel frequented by westerners killing dozens of people.
Additional reporting by Javier Blas in Lagos and John Reed in Jerusalem
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