Gunfire as Kenya forces battle to end deadly siege at luxury mall
By Peter Martell and Aymeric Vincenot ,AFPNAIROBI -- Kenyan troops backed by Israeli agents battled Sunday to end a siege in an upmarket shopping mall and free hostages held by Somali militants in an attack that has killed at least 59 people.
September 23, 2013, 12:03 am TWN
Sporadic gunfire rang out as Kenyan security officials said they were trying to kill or capture the remaining attackers and end the 28-hour-long bloodbath at the Westgate mall.
“The Israelis have just entered and they are rescuing the hostages and the injured,” a Kenyan security source told AFP. The Israeli foreign ministry refused to confirm or deny its forces were involved.
Terrified witnesses recounted scenes of horror as the masked gunmen tossed grenades and sprayed automatic gunfire in the packed center, sending panicked shoppers fleeing for their lives.
Somalia's al-Qaida-inspired Shebab rebels said the carnage at the part Israeli-owned complex was in retaliation for Kenya's military intervention in Somalia, where African Union troops are battling the Islamists.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said 59 people were confirmed dead, while the Red Cross has estimated the number of injured at around 200, with 49 others missing.
Lenku said there were still between 10 to 15 gunmen in the sprawling multi-storey complex but it was not clear how many people were still being held.
“We believe there are some innocent people in the building, that is why the operation is delicate.”
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had said in a televised address to the nation late Saturday that he had lost family members in the attack.
“Let me make it clear. We shall hunt down the perpetrators wherever they run to. We shall get them. We shall punish them for this heinous crime,” he vowed.
The Westgate mall is popular with wealthy Kenyans and expatriates, and was packed with around 1,000 shoppers when the masked gunmen marched in at midday Saturday.
Among the dead were three Britons, two French citizens, two Canadians including a diplomat, a Chinese women, two Indians and a South Korean, according to their governments.
Also killed was Ghanaian poet and former U.N. envoy Kofi Awoonor, 78, while his son was injured.
Kenyan Vice President William Ruto has asked the International Criminal Court to delay his trial for crimes against humanity over deadly 2007-08 post election violence because of the mall standoff, his lawyer said.
Security agencies have long feared that the shopping center could be targeted by al-Qaida-linked groups.
The attack, the worst in Nairobi since an al-Qaida bombing at the U.S. embassy killed more than 200 people in 1998, was condemned by world powers and the United Nations.
After a day and night of sometimes ferocious gun battles, security sources said police and soldiers had finally “pinned down” the gunmen.
“We are still battling with the attackers and our forces have managed to maroon the attackers on one of the floors,” said Kenyan military spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna. “We hope to bring this to an end today.”