Sunday, March 9, 2014
By JASON STRAZIUSO and TOM ODULA / The Associated Press
NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s military launched a major operation at an upscale Nairobi mall and said it had rescued “most” of the hostages being held captive by al-Qaida-linked militants during a two-day standoff that killed at least 68 people and injured 175.
Women with children run for safety Saturday as police hunt the 10 to 15 armed militants who stormed the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi. On Sunday, the military raided the mall to rout the gunmen.
Civilians who had been hiding during a gun battle hold their hands in the air as a precautionary measure before being searched by armed police leading them to safety, inside the Westgate Mall on Saturday.
The Associated Press
At daybreak on Monday, however, about five minutes of sustained gunfire could be heard being fired out of the mall, a clear indication that at least one of the gunmen who attacked the mall when it was filled with shoppers Saturday was still on the loose. More gunfire rang out later, much as it did throughout the day on Sunday. A military ambulance then sped away from the scene. And hours after Kenyan officials said most hostages had been released, no further updates were released by authorities.
The military assault began shortly before sundown on Sunday, with one helicopter skimming very close to the roof of the shopping complex as a loud explosion rang out, far larger than any previous grenade blast or gunfire volley.
Kenyan police said on Twitter that security forces had launched a “MAJOR” assault to end the bloody siege.
“This will end tonight. Our forces will prevail. Kenyans are standing firm against aggression, and we will win,” Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Centre said on Twitter.
The Kenya Defense Forces later said it had rescued “most” hostages and had taken control of most of the mall, though it did not provide details.
Many of the rescued hostages – mostly adults – were suffering from dehydration, Col. Cyrus Oguna, a military spokesman, told The Associated Press. He refused to say how many hostages were rescued or how many were still being held. He said some of the attackers had “most probably” been killed in the operation.
The assault came about 30 hours after 10 to 15 al-Shabab extremists stormed the mall Saturday from two sides, throwing grenades and firing on civilians.
Loud exchanges of gunfire rang out from inside the four-story mall throughout Sunday. Kenyan troops were seen carrying in at least two rocket-propelled grenades. Al-Shabab militants reacted angrily to the helicopters on Twitter and warned that the Kenyan military action was endangering hostages.
Kenyan authorities said they would do their utmost to save hostages’ lives, but no officials could say precisely how many people were being held captive. Kenya’s Red Cross said in a statement, citing police, that 49 people had been reported missing. Officials did not make an explicit link, but that number could give an indication of the number of people held captive.
Kenya’s Red Cross said the death toll rose to 68 after nine bodies were recovered Sunday. More than 175 people were injured, including many children, Kenyan officials said.
Somalia’s al-Qaida-linked rebel group, al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the attack that specifically targeted non-Muslims, saying it was in retribution for Kenyan forces’ 2011 push into neighboring Somalia.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned what he called “an enormous offense against everybody’s sense of right and wrong,” and called the attackers “ruthless and completely reckless terrorists.”
Kerry, who was in New York for meetings at the United Nations, spoke Sunday with Somalia’s foreign minister and U.N. ambassador.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said U.S. law enforcement, military and civilian personnel in Nairobi were providing advice and assistance to the Kenyan authorities. She said five Americans were among the scores of people injured in the attack, but the U.S. had no reports of any American deaths.
Earlier in the day, al-Shabab said on its new Twitter feed – after its previous one was shut down Saturday – that Kenyan officials were asking the hostage-takers to negotiate and offering incentives.
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Relatives help a woman on Sunday at the Nairobi City Mortuary after she identified the body of a victim of the Saturday attack at a mall.
The Associated Press