62 dead during three-day Nairobi nightmare

  • On Saturday, an Islamist terrorist group stormed Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, causing widespread terror.
  • At last count, there were 62 dead, 62 missing and 200 injured.
  • Kenyan forces are still struggling to bring the massacre to an end.

 

Three days of horror. On Monday evening, when the Kenyan skies grew as dark as the smoke billowing from the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, the nightmare still showed no sign of abating. Fifty-six hours after the beginning of the hostage crisis, the hard-pressed special forces inside the labyrinthine building still did not have the situation under control.

 

At midday on Saturday, members of the Somali al-Shabab militant group burst into the upscale shopping center located in the heart of Nairobi. At that time of the day, the shops were packed with people. Shots rang out, grenades exploded and panic ensued when the attackers, between 10 and 15 men, took possession of the building. It did not take long for the Somali Islamist group to claim responsibility and make it clear that the attack was an act of vengeance for Kenya’s decision to send troops to Somalia.

 

On Sunday evening, Kenyan security forces began to talk of a “rapid outcome” to the terrifying siege, reassuring the public that they were in control of a good part of the building. But by late Monday, as this edition of Le Soir was going to print, Kenyan forces and the attackers continued to exchange fire. The death toll makes for sober reading: 62 fatalities, 200 injuries. According to the Ministry of the Interior, three terrorists have been reported dead. The number of hostages, meanwhile, is still to be determined.

 

On Monday morning, the Kenyan army and other security forces present on the ground, including Israeli agents, relaunched their offensive. Barrages of shots and numerous explosions were heard throughout the day. Black smoke could soon be seen coming from the roof. Kenyan authorities were reasonably optimistic at this point. Joseph Ole Lenku, the interior minister, declared that the operation was drawing to a close. “We’re in control of every floor,” he explained. “The terrorists are unable to escape.” The police added a few hours later that they were “gaining more and more ground.”

 

But the mission facing the special forces is particularly tricky. First, the layout of the building has not done them any favors. The counter-attack was transformed into a giant game of hide and seek, with the military and Islamists slipping from one shop to another inside the enormous retail complex.

 

Second, the terrorists still have hostages in their possession, even though the army was able to rescue many of them. The remaining captives are in grave danger: the spokesman for the insurgents, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, said yesterday in a video clip that, in response to the army’s actions, he was planning to order their execution.

 

The nightmare looked as if it would continue to drag on yesterday evening. After a three-day siege, the Islamists were still holding out, despite the army’s best efforts. At the Ministry of the Interior, an inquiry into those responsible for the raid has been launched. A dozen or so suspects are said to have already been arrested and primed for interrogation. The police announced that they had received information suggesting that Samantha Lewthwaite, the British widow of one of the suicide bombers from the London attacks in 2005, was involved in the Nairobi assault. This information was categorized as “baseless” by an al-Shabab commander going by the name of Abu Omar, who told the BBC that the group of attackers did not include foreigners.

 

The hunt for the Islamist insurgents within the shopping mall continued yesterday evening, with the Kenyan authorities in sole control of the operation, despite the offers of assistance presented to President Uhuru Kenyatta from “friendly countries”. On Monday, Barack Obama promised that the United States would offer “all necessary support” to Kenya, in terms of either catching the terrorists or helping with Westgate’s painful aftermath.

 

CATHERINE JOIE

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One Response to 62 dead during three-day Nairobi nightmare

  1. Paul says:

    So, once more we have here an example of the most radical fringe of islamic fighters let loose upon the world. I appreciate islam is said to be a religion of peace, or so I’ve heard, and I would like to hear and see the moderate islamic silent majority present in Europa and America engage themselves in favor of the civilizations that they have opted to embed into. What we see now is that the majority of western moderate muslims, assumedly in favor of the democratic system, is firmly silent, as if not wishing to engage themselves irrevocably into the system that feeds them. They need to be forced, to use a famous Belgian prime minister’s words, to “burn their fingers”. We want to see that, clearly. Failure to do so would, I propose, need to be met with measures to force them to join their more radical brothers, outside Europe. Let’s be crystal clear, limpid, and apply rigourous glasnost to a situation that may cost us our head if not tackled the very soonest.

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