December 13, 2013
Islamist gunmen holed up with hostages in Kenya siege, 68 dead
Islamist militants were holed up with hostages at a shopping mall in Nairobi, where at least 68 people have been killed in an attack by the al Shabaab group that opposes Kenya's participation in a peacekeeping mission in neighboring Somalia.
A volley of gunfire lasting about 30 seconds interrupted a stalemate of several hours, a witness said, speaking from near the Westgate shopping centre that has several Israeli-owned outlets and is frequented by expatriates and Kenyans.
Foreigners, including three Britons and two diplomats - one from Canada and another from Ghana - were killed in Saturday's attack at the upmarket mall, claimed by Somali group al Shabaab.
Shortly after the shots were fired, troops in camouflage ran crouching below a restaurant terrace along the front of the building that had been buzzing with customers when assailants charged in. One witness said they first told Muslims to leave.
For hours after the brazen attack, the dead were strewn around tables of unfinished meals. At one burger restaurant, a man and woman lay in a final embrace after they had been killed, before their bodies were removed. Pop music was left playing.
Scores of Kenyans gathered at a site overlooking the mall, awaiting what they expected to be a violent denouement. "They entered through blood, that's how they'll leave," said Jonathan Maungo, a private security guard.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, facing his first major security challenge since a March election, said some of his close family members were among the dead, and vowed to defeat the militants.
"We have overcome terrorist attacks before," he said.
The assault was the biggest single attack in Kenya since al Qaeda's East Africa cell bombed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing more than 200 people. In 2002, the same militant cell attacked an Israeli-owned hotel on the coast and tried to shoot down an Israeli jet in a coordinated strike.
Al Shabaab's siege underlined its ability to cause major disruptions with relatively limited resources.
"In terms of capacity, while the group has grown considerably weaker in terms of being able to wage a conventional war, it is now ever more capable of carrying out asymmetric warfare," said Abdi Aynte, director of the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute of Policy Studies, a regional policy and security think tank.