Somalia-based Al Shabaab terrorists storm Nairobi mall, death toll at 62

Heavy black smoke billowing out of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Sept. 23, 2013. SOURCE: Kenya Red Cross via Twitter

Between 10 to 15 terrorists, heavily armed with hand grenades and high-power weapons, stormed the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya shortly after noon on Saturday, killing dozens of people, including children.

Al Shabaab, an Islamist militant group affiliated with Al Qaeda from Somalia, immediately claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack.

Using the Twitter handle HSM_Press (which has since been suspended), Al Shabaab taunted that the terrorists are “fighting the Kenyan Kuffar inside their own turf” and “What Kenyans are witnessing at Westgate is retributive justice for crimes committed by their military, albeit largely minuscule in nature”, referring to Kenya’s 2011 decision to send troops to help the nascent Somali government and African Union forces to drive out Al Shabaab from the key southern port city of Kismayo.

(Somalia was effectively a failed state for much of the 1990s and 2000s, which has allowed warlords and extremist militant groups to flourish until the international community – including the U.N., African Union, Uganda, and Kenya – intervened.)

A series of explosions rocked the upscale shopping mall Monday as Kenyan police and military forces work to end the stand-off. Thick black smoke billowed from the building. The Kenya Defense Forces stated that the fire was started “by the terrorists to distract the ongoing operation” and the fire has since been brought under control.

11 Kenyan soldiers were injured in the operation to secure the Westgate Mall, according to the Kenya Defense Forces.

Later in the afternoon, the Kenya Defense Forces reported that 3 of the terrorist have been killed, “a few others” have been wounded, and the Interior Ministry stated that more than “10 suspects have been arrested for questioning in relation to” the Westgate attack.

Four hours after the Interior Ministry reported that “10 bodies have been from the building”, a government spokesman announced that “all hostages have been released”, indicating that siege may have concluded.

“Our forces are combing the mall floor by floor looking for anyone left behind. We believe all hostages have been released,” according to Manoah Esipisu, Secretary of Communications. 

As of 11 a.m. Monday local time, the Kenya Red Cross confirmed 62 fatalities. In addition, the Red Cross reported that 175 people have been admitted to several area hospitals for treatment.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose nephew and his fiancee were among the casualties, condemned the attack as an “evil and cowardly act of terrorism.”

“I want every bereaved family to know that I mourn very deeply with them. No one should lose their life so needlessly, so senselessly, and no family should have to receive news that their loved one has been killed by a criminal bunch of cowards,” said Kenyatta on Sunday. “The Al Shabaab terror group have claimed responsibility for this cowardly act of terror on social media. However, investigations are underway to conclusively establish those responsible for this mayhem, so that we can have full accountability. They shall not get away with their despicable, beastly acts. Like the cowardly perpetrators now cornered in the building, we will punish the masterminds swiftly and painfully.”

By all accounts, the Westgate Mall was popular weekend gathering place for wealthy Kenyans and foreigners and thus victims of the attack spanned various nationalities.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed that at least 6 Britons were killed.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that several Americans have been injured and that the wife of a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) staff member. A statement released by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah on Sunday identified the deceased as Ruhila Adatia-Sood, the wife of Ketan Sood, a Foreign Service National serving as the Senior Acquisition and Assistance Specialist for the U.S. Mission in Nairobi. Ruhila, a popular radio host, was several months pregnant.

“Ruhila was a popular radio and TV personality, who was known throughout Kenya for her passion, vibrancy, and gift for making people smile,” Shah stated. “Our entire community has been shaken by this loss and an abhorrent act of violence in a city where so many of us have lived and in a country that so many of us love.”

Ghanian poet and professor Kofi Awoonor was killed in the attack, according to the Ghanian Ministry of Information. Awoonor’s son was wounded and was taken a hospital for treatment.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs confirmed two fatalities and four injuries. The injured were identified as Manjula Sridhar, Mukta Jain, Kumari Poorvi Jain, Shri Natarajan Ramachandran. An employee of a pharmaceutical firm and a boy succumbed to their injuries. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei confirmed on Sunday that one Chinese citizen was killed and another another was injured. 

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird confirmed that Annemarie Desloges, a diplomat serving with Canada Border Services Agency in Nairobi, was killed in the Westgate attack. Desloges was 29 years old.

“Canada condemns this senseless act of violence in the strongest of terms, and we call on Kenyan authorities to bring the perpetrators of this terrorist attack to justice,” said Baird. “Canadian public servants around the world selflessly serve our country proudly. Like Annemarie, they do so because they believe in the cause of humanity. They believe that their work will better the lives of many at home and around the world. They believe in the values that Canada represents. We have no doubt that Annemarie touched the lives of many, and it is for that, that she will always be remembered.”

Saturday’s strike by Al Shabaab marked one of the deadliest terrorist attacks against Westerner in Nairobi since the 1998 Al Qaeda bombing of the U.S. Embassy, which killed  more than 200 people and injured hundreds of others. This is also not the first time Al Shabaab has claimed credit for terrorist attacks against neighboring African countries in retaliation for supporting the Somali government. Al Shabaab allegedly carried out bombings that killed more than 70 people in Kampala, Uganda during the World Cup final in 2010.

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