#Westgate Mall attack

Posted: September 27, 2013 in Politics/Current issues

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A section of the Westgate Mall that collapsed during the final assault on suspected Al-Shabaab attackers by the Kenya security forces. PHOTO | KDF 

Saturday, 21st of September 2013 is a day that will continue lingering in the minds of most Nairobi residents. Between 11 and 12:30, 10 to 15  armed unidentified gunmen attacked the upscale Westgate shopping mall  located in the Westlands neighbourhood of Nairobi.

Being a Saturday, the mall was with a buzz of activities. The luxurious mall which houses shops, banks supermarkets is popular with Kenya’s new consumer class. Foreign officials and expatriates are also known to frequent this shopping centre during their visits to Kenya and things were not different on this fateful day. On this same Saturday, a cooking competition for children organised by East Fm was also ongoing. So many children accompanied by their parents had flocked the mall for this completion.

What followed next within a span of about thirty minutes that would also turn out to be a battle between Kenyan security forces and the gunmen for close to three days remains a shock to many Kenyans.

Speaking to journalists, Rob Vandijk, a Dutch embassy employee, said he was eating at a restaurant when the attack started.  Grenades were hurled at people and were then followed by gunfire forcing the patrons to scream as they dropped to the ground.

What could be heard was gunfire from the entrance of the building as the gunmen found their way inside.  Some of the casualties were shot at the entrance, especially the security guards manning the mall. Witnesses said they heard a noise from the ground floor and people started running to the parking area on the rooftop. They were panicking and when the second blast went off panic gripped people in the mall.

The police arrived close to an hour later and the Kenyan Defence Forces later joined them to counter this attack in what has been viewed as the worse terror attack to ever hit Kenya in recent days.  For the better part of that Saturday, security forces joined hands in a recue missions to save people trapped in the mall. Ambulances were also on standby outside as the operation went on.

According to Kenya Red Cross, nine more bodies were recovered on Sunday evening in joint rescue mission. The National Security Advisory Council the top decision-making organ as far as the country’s security is concerned told journalists on Sunday noon that the death toll had risen to 59. By Sunday evening the death toll had increased to 68.

The Cabinet Secretary for Interior, Joseph ole Lenku says the siege at the mall continues, but the security forces are in a “delicate” rescue mission that has seen over 1,000 people rescued from the mall since the Saturday morning attack.

 “The operation is very delicate because our objective is to make sure that the Kenyans who are still in the mall are evacuated safely,” said Lenku on that Sunday

For three days, scenes that can only be described in movies were the order of the day at the mall. Battles between the Kenyan forces and the attackers continued in a bid to rescue the more than 100 hostages who were said to have been held hostage by the attackers. Kenyan security forces rescued about 1,000 hostages, according to Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku, who said that “the priority is to save as many lives as possible,” Colonel Cyrus Oguna,  The military spokesman, said that most of the hostages had been released, saying that “most of them had been dehydrated and suffering from shock” 

Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab rebels later on that same Saturday claimed responsibility for the attack. Through Twitter, they said the attack was in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia

“The Mujahideen entered Westgate Mall today at around noon and are still inside the mall, fighting the Kenyan Kuffar inside their own turf,” the group said on Twitter.

“What Kenyans are witnessing at Westgate is retributive justice for crimes committed by their military,” the tweet read.

Kenyan Defence forces entered Somalia two years ago to fight al-Shabaab. The forces remain in the country as part of an African Union force that is supporting Somalia’s internationally-backed government.

On that Saturday at 11:10pm the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta overcomes by emotions addressed the country and vowed to crush the militants.

My Government stands ready to defend the nation from internal as well as external aggression. I urge all Kenyans to stand together and see this dark moment through. Donate blood. Provide information to the authorities. Comfort and reassure the affected families. Let us ashame the Devil and his works by demonstrating our timeless values of love, compassion and solidarity,” he said.

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He said security forces were conducting a multi-agency response to secure Kenyans from terrorists. “But let me make it clear. We shall hunt down the perpetrators wherever they run to. We shall get them. We shall punish them for this heinous crime.” The President asked Kenyans to condole with the bereaved and support the injured, saying he had lost close family members in the attack.

At the end of the rescue operations at the mall, 61 civilians and 6 security officers were confirmed dead. This was the worst ever terror attack to ever hit the country after the 1998 bombing of the American embassy.

British police officers who are based in Kenya arrived on the scene to help Kenyan counter terrorism officials and an investigation had begun. Security was also tightened in public places across Kenya.  Ten arrests were reported on 24 September. In announcing the end of operations, on Kenyatta said forensic investigations are underway to establish the nationalities of all those involved” and suggested that a British woman and two or three US citizens “may have been involved in the attack” but that could not be confirmed at the time.

 

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  helped to escape by Abdul Haj

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