Kenya soldiers have mall gunmen pinned down - source

2013-09-21 20:03
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Kenya mall attack

Several people have died after gunmen opened fire and lobbed grenades in an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. See the pictures here.

Nairobi - Kenyan police and soldiers have isolated and pinned down the remaining gunmen who attacked an upmarket shopping mall in the capital Nairobi, said a security source.

"The attackers have been isolated and are pinned down in an area on one of the floors. The rest of the mall seems to be secure," the source told AFP at the scene as security operations continued.

Militant gunmen stormed a shopping mall in Nairobi on Saturday killing at least 25 people, including children, and sending scores fleeing in panic from shops and restaurants onto the streets, according to witnesses and the Red Cross.

Shooting continued hours after the initial assault as troops surrounded the Westgate mall and police and soldiers combed the building, hunting down the attackers shop by shop. A police officer inside the building said the gunmen were barricaded inside the Nakumatt supermarket, one of Kenya's biggest chains.

"We got three bodies from this shop," he said, standing a dozen metres from the supermarket entrance and pointing to a children's shoe shop where blood lay in pools.

Shopping mall security

He turned to a nearby hamburger bar where piped music still played and food lay abandoned in a similar bloody scene. "And a couple of bodies here."

Kenya has beefed up security in shopping malls across the capital after an attack on the top-end Westgate mall, senior Interior Ministry official Mutea Iringo said on Saturday.

"We reassure Kenyans that government will not relent on this war against armed criminals," he told a news conference.

Another top-end mall, Village Market, closed very soon after the attack.

Kenya's largest supermarket chain Nakumatt said it was closing most of its Nairobi stores.

The Westgate mall attack was the single biggest since al-Qaeda's east Africa cell bombed the US embassy in Nairobi, in 1998 killing more than two hundred people. In 2002, the same militant cell attacked an Israeli-owned hotel and tried to shoot down an Israeli jet in a co-ordinated attack.

Tiles were smeared with blood, bullet casings were strewn on the floor and shop windows were shattered. A policeman dragged the corpse of a young girl across the floor and lay her on a stretcher. Two plainclothes policemen lay on the floor with guns trained on the Nakumatt supermarket entrance.


Some local television stations reported hostages had been taken, but there was no official confirmation.

The Somali militant group al-Shabaab, which Kenya blames for shootings, bombings and grenade attacks against churches and the security forces, had threatened before to strike Westgate, a mall popular with the city's expatriates.

The chain of attacks came in answer to a cross-border action by Kenyan forces against al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia two years ago.

Somalian President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said it was too early to draw conclusions. "We don't have any proof that the people who did this are Somali," he said in Washington.

Though apparently a militant operation rather than a criminal act, it was not clear whether the attackers were religious militants. One woman leaving the building told a journalist that one of the attackers had told all Muslims to leave the area; but there has been no claim of responsibility.

Police helicopters circled above shortly after the initial assault as armed police shouted "get out! get out!" and scores of shoppers fled the sand-coloured stone building. Smoke poured from one entrance and witnesses said they heard grenade blasts.

Others said they saw about five assailants storm the mall.

The mall includes a number of Israeli-owned businesses, though it was not immediately clear if these were the target of the attack. At least four Israeli nationals escaped the assault, one with light wounds.

"As of now this appears to be an internal Kenyan incident, that is, a terrorist attack but not one that specifically targeted Israelis," a spokesperson at Israel's Foreign Ministry said.

Read more on:    kenya  |  kenya mall attack  |  east africa  |  security

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