Kenya mall siege ‘over’ but death toll unclear

NAIROBI (Reuters) – As Kenya began three days of mourning today for at least 67 people killed in the siege of a Nairobi mall, it was unclear how many more hostages may have died with the Somali Islamist attackers buried in the rubble.

Declaring final victory over the al Qaeda-linked gunmen from al Shabaab who stormed the Westgate shopping centre on Saturday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said that three floors in a part of the mall had collapsed near the end of the operation, leaving an unknown number of bodies under steel and concrete.

It was not clear what caused the structure to come down.

Five militants had been shot dead, Kenyatta said, and six security personnel died in the four days of fighting.

Sixty-one civilians had so far been confirmed dead, Kenyatta added. Kenyan officials declined to say how many of 63 people whom the Red Cross had earlier classed as unaccounted for may also have died in a showdown with guerrillas, who had threatened to kill their hostages and go down fighting.

Eleven people suspected of involvement with the well-planned and executed assault were in custody, the Kenyan president added. But he did not say how many, if any, were gunmen taken alive and how many may have been people arrested elsewhere.

It was also unclear whether intelligence reports of American or British gunmen would be confirmed. Al Shabaab denied that any women took part, after British sources said the fugitive widow of one of the 2005 London suicide bombers might have some role.

The shattered mall, an imposing, Israeli-built symbol of a new prosperity for some in Africa while many remain mired in poverty, lay largely silent overnight, after days of gunfire, explosions and bloodshed.

“The operation is now over,” Kenyatta told Kenyans in a televised address. “We have ashamed and defeated our attackers.”

He announced three days of national mourning.

Police said the attackers, who devastated restaurants and shops at a busy Saturday lunchtime, spraying bullets and grenades at Kenyans and foreigners, were now either dead or in custody.

“Now it is for the forensic and criminal experts,” said a police spokesman, Masoud Mwinyi.

Some of the 63 people reported to the Red Cross as still missing may simply not have been at the mall, or may have later made it home without the agency being made aware. But some, at least, appear to have been held hostage.

“There are several bodies trapped in the rubble, including the terrorists,” Kenyatta said. At the weekend, he had said there were between 10 and 15 militants holed up in the mall.

Several foreigners of many nationalities have already been named among the dead. The mall was a favourite with expatriates.

It is unclear how many foreigners may still be missing.

Survivors of the assault told tales of horror and narrow escapes. Some made it out after hours, even days, of hiding in terror. The uncle of one British four-year-old told the Sun newspaper his nephew had told a militant “You’re a very bad man,” as the gunman let some children and their mother go.

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