Dozens Killed In Terror Attack On Kenyan Mall
Up to three dozen people died today in an apparent terrorist attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya:
NAIROBI, Kenya — Masked gunmen stormed into a fancy, crowded mall in Nairobi on Saturday and shot dead at least 39 people in one of the most chilling terrorist attacks in East Africa since Al Qaeda blew up two American Embassies in 1998.
Parents threw their bodies over their children, people climbed into ventilation shafts to save themselves, and shoppers huddled behind the plastic mannequins of designer clothing stores as two squads of gunmen moved through the mall shooting shoppers in the head.
The mall, called Westgate, is a symbol of Kenya’s rising prosperity, an impressive five-story building where Kenyans can buy expensive cups of frozen yogurt and plates of sushi. On Saturdays, it is especially crowded, with loose, sometimes lackadaisical security. American officials have long warned that malls are ripe targets for Islamist terrorists, especially Westgate, because a cafe on the ground floor is owned by Israelis.
Fred Ngoga Gateretse, an official with the African Union, was having coffee at that cafe, ArtCaffe, around noon when he heard two deafening blasts. He cowered on the floor and watched eight gunmen with scarves twisted over their faces firing at shoppers and then up at Kenyan police officers who were shooting down from a balcony as panicked shoppers dashed for cover. “Believe me, these guys were good shooters,” Mr. Gateretse said. “You could tell they were trained.”
Several witnesses said the attackers shouted for Muslims to run away while they hunted down other shoppers. The mall, one of Nairobi’s most luxurious, with gleaming escalators and some of the most expensive shops in town, is also popular with expatriates. It has served as the place for a power lunch, to catch a movie, to bring children for ice cream. On Saturday, the State Department said there were reports of injured American citizens but declined to elaborate, citing privacy considerations.
Several Western intelligence officials said they suspected that the attack was carried out by the Shabab, an Islamist militant group based in Somalia that has carried out suicide attacks and beheadings inside Somalia and threatened Kenyan malls before. A confidential United Nations report on Saturday described the attack as “a complex, two-prolonged assault” with two squads of gunmen dashing into the mall from different floors at the same time and opening fire immediately.
The Shabab sent out several Twitter messages after the massacre suggesting that its fighters were responsible for an attack they said represented “just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders.” One message said the Shabab had warned the Kenyan government “that failure to remove its forces from Somalia would have severe consequences.” Kenya sent troops into Somalia in 2011 to help fight the Shabab and to prevent violence from spilling over across the border the countries share.
The president of Kenya, Uruhu Kenyatta, said at least 39 had died and 150 were injured in the assault. “Terrorism is and of itself is a philosophy of cowards,” he said in an address to the nation on Saturday night. “We are as brave and invincible as the lions on our coat of arms.”
As midnight approached, Kenyan commandos had cornered several of the assailants on the third floor of the mall, witnesses said. Western officials said they expected that the assailants would fight to the death, though the Kenyan news media reported that one wounded gunman had been captured, and that he had later died in a hospital. Witnesses who escaped the mall said the assailants were holding hostages at gunpoint and one of the assailants was a woman.
Throughout the day, as the police cleared sections of the mall, terrified shoppers emerged with their hands up.
A shocking and sad day for Kenya and, quite honestly, a peek at a form of terrorism that, if unleashed in the United States, would cause real panic among the public.