Kenyan Police Search Mall Wreckage after Militant Attack
NAIROBI – U.S., British and Israeli agencies are helping Kenya investigate an attack by Islamist militants on a Nairobi shopping mall that killed at least 72 people and destroyed part of the complex.
After a four-day siege, President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Tuesday troops had defeated the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group that targeted the shopping center popular with prosperous Kenyans and foreigners. He declared three days of mourning.
The attack has highlighted the reach of the Somali al Shabaab and the capabilities of its crack unit believed to be behind the bloodshed in Westgate mall, confirming international fears that as long as Somalia remains in turmoil it will be a recruiting and training ground for militant Islam.
The militants stormed the mall, known for its Western shops selling iPads and Nike shoes, in a hail of gunfire and grenades at lunchtime Saturday. The attack ended on Tuesday when Kenyan troops detonated explosives to get through locked doors inside the mall as they searched for militants or booby traps. “We have moved to the next phase,” Interior Minister Joseph ole Lenku told a news conference.
He said that alongside U.S., British and Israeli agencies, Kenya was also receiving help from Germany, Canada and the police agency Interpol in the investigation. He said he did not expect the death toll of 61 civilians, six members of the security forces and five attackers to rise significantly, and that the only bodies still likely to be found were those of slain assailants.
Three floors collapsed after the blasts and a separate fire weakened the structure of the vaulted, marble-tiled building. Officials said the blaze arose from militants lighting mattresses as a decoy. Kenya has said 10 to 15 attackers launched the raid. Ole Lenku said the investigation would seek to ascertain if there were any females among the assailants, as some witness accounts suggest, and would also see if the groups had rented a store in the mall prior the attack as part of their preparation.
Al Shabaab said it launched the assault to demand Kenya withdraw its troops fighting with African peacekeepers in Somalia. It said hostages were killed when Kenyan troops used gas to clear the mall. Officials dismissed this as “propaganda”. Kenyatta has said Kenyan forces would not leave Somalia. “We have ashamed and defeated our attackers,” he said in his televised address on Tuesday.
U.S. President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, said he believed the country – scene of one of al Qaeda’s first big attacks, in 1998, when a bomb devastated the U.S. embassy in Nairobi – would continue to be a regional pillar of stability. (Reuters)