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.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Policing, Terrorism, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Grumpy Realist says:

    Given our lackadaisical attitude towards guncontrol in the US, something like this is just a matter of time.

  2. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Grumpy Realist: There’s a common element in all these massacres carried out by groups, Grumpy… the vast majority of these incidents involve gunmen shouting a certain two-word non-English phrase, with both words starting with “A.”

    It ain’t the weapons that’s doing the killing. It’s people. And most of them part of a certain self-defined group.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    @Grumpy Realist:

    I presume you’ve aware that Kenya is considered “restrictive” in the legal ownership of firearms? There are only about 6,000 firearms registered in the entire country of an estimated 1.5 million firearms in the possession of Kenyans.

    The country is a near-perfect example of the futility of gun control laws in controlling the possession or use of guns.

  4. bill says:

    @Grumpy Realist: we do have some restrictions on gun ownership- but we can’t discriminate against the criminally insane as that violates their rights….for some insane reason.
    but you could be right as far as having some wacky muslims attack unarmed civilians….it happens and will continue to.

  5. Matt says:

    @Grumpy Realist: I knew somehow this was going to be further “evidence” that we needed more gun control laws here….

  6. mattbernius says:

    @Grumpy Realist:
    For the record, we have already had mass shootings at US malls — just by mentally unstable people, not terrorists.

  7. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Also, it bears repeating that these terrorists did not kill indiscriminately. They identified the Muslims and let them go. They were intent on killing non-Muslims exclusively.

  8. Matt says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: That would be surprising because in their view if they did kill a Muslim then they just gave that Muslim a free ticket to heaven as a martyr or whatever..