Kenya Says It Believes All Hostages Are Free

September 24th, 2013 by Staff


NAIROBI, Kenya—The remaining hostages held by Islamic militants in an upscale Nairobi mall during a three-day siege appeared to have been freed, Kenyan officials said early on Tuesday, and the interior ministry said that troops were in control of the mall.

The declaration came after the security forces mounted a major assault on Monday afternoon in an effort to free the remaining people Kenyan officials still believed to be inside. Gunfire and explosions erupted as the operation started, accompanied by a black plume of smoke billowing into the air.

Meanwhile, sketchy details began to emerge about the assailants. A Caucasian-looking woman in a head scarf fired on shoppers at the Westgate mall with an assault rifle as they fled and dove for cover, said a Western security officer briefed on the assault.

Most of the other attackers remain unidentified, and the fates of some remain uncertain

“We believe all hostages have been released…situation of hostiles to be confirmed,” a message on the Twitter account of the government’s Disaster Operations Center said late Monday.

At least 62 people have been killed in the siege, which started on Saturday, after armed assailants rushed into the mall from three entrances and opened fire on those inside. At least two attackers were killed and 10 people have been arrested in Kenya for questioning in connection with the assault, police said.

The account of female militants jibes with witnesses who said they saw women taking part in the assault.

One man said he saw three women among the assailants that came in and out of the supermarket storeroom in which he was hiding. Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said on Monday that some militants had disguised themselves as women, without explaining why.


Meanwhile, Kenya’s military, which was taking part in the counterassault on the mall, confirmed that the assailants came from a number of countries, although an official declined to disclose details in a briefing with reporters on Monday.

“We have an idea who these people are, and they are clearly a multinational collection from all over the world,” said Maj. Gen. Julius Karanja, the chief of general staff for the Kenyan military.

The Somali al-Shabaab militant Islamist group claimed responsibility for the attack but didn’t provide details on the assailants.

A list of purported attackers, including Europeans and Americans, appeared to have come from a Twitter account not sanctioned by the group. The list couldn’t be independently verified.

Kenya’s foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, told PBS’s “NewsHour” program that two or three Americans and one female British national were among the attackers. She said the Americans were 18 to 19 years old, of Somali or Arab origin and lived in Minnesota and another American location.

The State Department said it had seen reports of American involvement and that officials were looking into them. “At this point we have no definitive evidence of the nationalities or identities of the perpetrators,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday on CNN.

The security forces also appeared to be growing to include international participants.

Israeli forces joined Kenyan troops pursuing the militants inside the mall on Monday, said witnesses.

The Israeli government declined to comment on their presence and Kenyan officials continued to stress that the rescue was a purely Kenyan operation.

There are a number of Israeli-owned shops in Westgate and the mall itself is at least partially Israeli-owned.

In New York on Monday, President Barack Obama, calling al-Shabaab “one of the most vicious terrorist organizations in the world,” said he spoke with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and promised U.S. assistance with the investigation.

“Despite being severely weakened as an insurgency, al-Shabaab’s lethality as a terrorist outfit has been fairly constant,” a U.S. official said. “Al-Shabaab’s operational arm may be benefiting from additional resources now that the group is less preoccupied with governance.”

Monday’s rescue mission was punctuated by gunfire and large explosions that sent bystanders scurrying from the upscale mall and turned a bustling suburb of East Africa’s commercial capital into a conflict zone.

Smoke came from a fire set by the militants in a supermarket in an attempt to prevent security forces from advancing, said Mr. Ole Lenku, the interior minister.

Before Monday’s government operation, at least 47 people were believed to be still trapped inside, based on Red Cross missing-persons reports.

The Western security officer briefed on the operation could only confirm three people freed on Monday afternoon.

Kenyan police had promised an assault on the shopping center, but also said they were moving forward slowly in order to protect the civilians hiding inside and possibly being held at gunpoint by the attackers.

Earlier Monday, police widened the security cordon around the mall, closing off additional streets to cars.

Security forces could also be seen in the late morning massing near the main entrance of the mall. Helicopters circled overhead.

A sense of siege has permeated the city—other major malls have been closed and the government has increased security at airports and seaports nationwide.

The Kenyan government has had access to the mall’s closed-circuit television feed since Sunday, so has been able to monitor some of the attackers’ movements.

Mr. Ole Lenku said 10 Kenyan security forces had been wounded and were receiving treatment.

Among the civilian dead were six Britons, two Canadians including a diplomat, two French women and a prominent Ghanaian poet, their governments said.

The U.K. government, which said the Britons’ next of kin had been informed, added that the number of British fatalities could rise. Local media reported that a Kenyan radio presenter was killed on the roof, and Mr. Kenyatta said his nephew and nephew’s fiancée died in the attack.

President Kenyatta called the assault an “evil and cowardly act of terrorism” and vowed to continue to fight against the Somali militants.

“I want to be very clear and categorical: We shall not relent on the war on terror. We will continue that fight, and we urge all people of goodwill throughout the world to join us and to ensure that we uproot this evil,” he said.

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment. You are free to voice your opinion but please keep it clean. Any comments using profanity will be rejected.