Kenyan soldiers move in formation, clearing the top floor balcony and interior of Westgate Mall in Nairobi, yesterday.
NAIROBI: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced yesterday that a four-day siege by Islamist gunmen of a Nairobi shopping mall was over, with the “immense” loss of 61 civilians and six members of the security forces.
“We have ashamed and defeated our attackers, that part of our task is completed,” a sombre Kenyatta, who himself lost family members in the assault, said in a televised address to the nation.
“Our losses are immense,” he added, announcing three days of national mourning. He said five attackers had been killed and 11 suspects were in custody.
“We have been badly hurt, but we have been brave, united and strong. Kenya has stared down evil and triumphed. We have defeated our enemies and showed the whole world what we can accomplish,” he said.
The president said “three floors of the mall collapsed, trapping several bodies within the rubble including those of terrorists.” Police said the current death toll was provisional, with the Kenyan Red Cross saying 63 people were still listed as missing.
In one of the worst attacks in the country’s history, a group of attackers marched into the four-storey, part Israeli-owned Westgate Mall at midday Saturday, spraying shoppers with automatic weapons fire and tossing grenades.
Somalia’s Al Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels said it carried out the attack in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia.
Kenyatta said that “forensic investigations are underway to establish the nationalities of all those involved” amid reports Americans and a British woman were among the insurgents.
There has been growing media speculation at the possible role of wanted British extremist Samantha Lewthwaite, daughter of a British soldier and widow of suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay, who blew himself up on a London Underground train on July 7, 2005, killing 26 people.
Lewthwaite is wanted in Kenya, and is accused of links to the Shebab.
The president said intelligence reports had suggested that a British woman and two or three American citizens “may have been involved in the attack”, but said could not yet be confirmed.
Kenyan army chief Julius Karangi has said the attackers were from “different countries”. Many foreign fighters, including Somalis with dual nationalities, are members of the Shebab force.
Close to 200 were wounded in the four-day long carnage, which saw running battles between militants and security forces in the complex, popular with wealthy Kenyans, diplomats, UN workers and other expatriates.
The siege developed into a hostage drama with Shebab claiming hostages were being held, and Kenyan special forces — who were backed by Israeli, US and British agents — describing the stand-off as delicate. AFP