Gunmen storm Nairobi Mall, at least 25 killed

Gunmen storm Nairobi Mall, at least 25 killed

NAIROBI - Reuters / Agence France-Presse
Gunmen storm Nairobi Mall, at least 25 killed

People run from the Westgate Mall, an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Sept. 21, where shooting erupted when armed men staged an attack. AP photo

Militant gunmen stormed a shopping mall in Nairobi on Sept. 21 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.

The Westgate mall attack was the single biggest since al Qaeda's east Africa cell bombed the U.S. 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 coordinated 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. 

Police helicopters circled overhead as armed police shouted "get out, get out", and scores of shoppers fled the building. Smoke poured out of one entrance and witnesses said they heard grenade blasts.

Kenya's Ministry of Interior said: "It is a possibility that it is an attack by terrorists, so we are treating the matter very seriously."

Asked if foreign security services were involved in the operation to flush out the attackers, he said, "At this stage it has not become necessary yet."

At least two dozen wounded were wheeled out on stretchers and shopping trolleys. Many of the victims had multiple light wounds, apparently from flying debris. Other walked out, some with bloodied clothing wrapped around wounds.
Al-Shabaab spokesman claimed the attack

Kenya blames al-Shabaab and its sympathisers for a string of shootings, bombings and grenade attacks against churches and the security forces since Kenyan forces moved into Somalia to help battle the al Qaeda-linked militants two years ago.

Al-Shabaab have previously threatened to launch strikes on Nairobi's tower blocks and soft targets including nightclubs and hotels known to be popular with Westerners in the capital. But they have so far failed to carry out such an attack.

A spokesman for al-Shabaab confirmed hours after the incident that the group's fighters were behind an attack on Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall, telling Kenya to withdraw its troops from Somalia.

"The Christian government of Kenya invaded our country in October 2011 killing many innocent civilians with their military jets," Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage said in a statement.

"We have warned Kenya of that attack but it ignored (us), still forcefully holding our lands... while killing our innocent civilians," Rage said in the statement.

"This led the Mujahedeen to wage revenge attacks on Kenya. Today a unit of the Shebab Al- Mujahedeen attacked an important centre for Kenya, taking control of it," he added.

"If you want Kenya in peace, it will not happen as long as your boys are in our lands," the statement said.

The statement confirmed a claim of responsibility issued earlier via the group's Twitter account.

U.S. says Americans reported hurt in Nairobi attack 
The U.S. State Department said Americans were reportedly among the injured in the attack, condemning the "senseless act of violence."

"We have reports of American citizens injured in the attack, and the U.S. embassy is actively reaching out to provide assistance," Spokeswoman Marie Harf said without elaborating, citing privacy concerns. She said the Nairobi chief of police has called the attack, which killed at least 25 and injured 60, "a terrorist act."

"The embassy is also in contact with local authorities and has offered assistance," Harf said in a statement.