Approximately 12-hours ago in Nairobi, Kenya, 5- Islamic extremists (1 woman) entered Nairobi’s Westgate four story Mall and began shooting at innocent bystanders.Reportedly, they were equipped with grenades, AK-47 assault rifles and armored vests. Crying mothers clutched crying children. Kenya's president announced on national television that at least 39 people were killed and more than 150 wounded. Among the dead were the president's family members.
Tourists were among the casualties including two women from France. American citizens were among the injured but not killed according to the State Department. Nairobi’s mortuary superintendent, Sammy Nyongesa Jacob, said Africans, Asians and Caucasians were among the bodies brought to the mortuary.
Last reported, the gunmen remain barricaded inside the mall with hostages. President Uhuru Kenyatta has both police and the military attempting to rescue the hostages and evacuate any survivors still trapped in the mall. According to witness reports, Al-Qaeda gunman asked victims if they were Muslim and of those who replied yes; they were free to leave unharmed. The non-Muslims were shot at. The gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave. In addition to fired gunshots, the terrorist also used grenades thrown at several groups of bystanders.
Somalia's Islamic extremist group, al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack claiming it was retribution for Kenyan forces' 2011 push into Somalia. They have made threats of more violence for future attacks. Al-Shabab said on its Twitter feed that Kenyan security officials were trying to open negotiations. Al-Shabab, on its Twitter feed, said that it has many times warned Kenya’s government that failure to remove its forces from Somalia “would have severe consequences.” The group claimed that its gunmen had killed 100 people, but its assertions are often exaggerated.
“There will be no negotiations whatsoever.”
-- al-Shabab tweeted
“The attack at (hash)WestgateMall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders,” al-Shabab said. Another tweet said: “For long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land, now it’s time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land (hash)Westgate.” Al-Shabab’s Twitter account was suspended shortly after its claim of responsibility and threats against Kenya. Twitter’s terms of service forbids making threats. Al-Shabab threatened in late 2011 to unleash a large-scale attack in Nairobi. Kenya has seen a regular spate of grenade attacks since then but never such a large terrorist assault.
Police and military surrounded the huge shopping complex as helicopters buzzed overhead. Apparently, the first attack occurred at an outdoor cafe at the mall. The mall has nationally recognized stores such as Nike, Bose, and Adidas. The mall is owned by Israelis which has been speculation for attack such as these. Terrorists often go after what is known as "Soft Targets" which are places such as malls, schools, and airports--where there is a high probability of civilian casualties.
People had been running for their lives and tried to take refuge in parking lots, parking garages, back corners of stores, back service hallways and even inside bank vaults. Undercover police officers attempted to gain access to the mall to help save survivors. Wounded had been pushed out of the mall in shopping carts.
“We started by hearing gunshots downstairs and outside. Later we heard them come inside. We took cover. Then we saw two gunmen wearing black turbans. I saw them shoot.”
-- Patrick Kuria, an employee at Artcaffe, the restaurant with shady outdoor seating
“One was Somali, the others were black, suggesting that they could have been Kenyan or another nationality."
-- Sgt. major Frank Mugungu, an off-duty inside the mall when he observed 4-male and 1-female attacker walking by.
The U.S. State Department condemned “this senseless act of violence that has resulted in death and injury for many innocent men, women, and children.” In a separate statement, a White House spokeswoman said some staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kenya have been “tragically affected” by the attack. No other information was provided.
“The perpetrators of this heinous act must be brought to justice, and we have offered our full support to the Kenyan Government to do so.”
-- Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council
The U.S. embassy in Nairobi said it was in contact with local authorities and offered assistance. Some British security personnel assisted in the response.
“These heartless acts against defenseless civilians, including innocent children, are beyond the pale and cannot be tolerated. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Kenya in its time of grief for these lives lost and the many injured.”
One witness, Jay Patel, who sought cover on an upper floor in the mall when shooting began, said that when he looked out of a window onto the upper parking deck of the mall he saw the gunmen with a group of people. Patel said that as the attackers were talking, some of the people stood up and left and the others were shot.
“They just came in and threw a grenade. We were running and they opened fire. They were shouting and firing.”
-- Patel said after marching out of the mall in a line of 15 people who all held their hands in the air.
The United Nations secretary-general’s office said that Ban Ki-moon has spoken with President Uhuru Kenyatta and expressed his concern. British Prime Minister David Cameron also called Kenyatta and offered assistance.