December 13, 2013
Kenyan forces rescue ‘most’ hostages from mall
NAIROBI — With helicopters circling overhead, Kenya’s military launched a “final assualt” yesterday at the upscale Nairobi mall attacked by militants on Saturday. The Army said afterwards it had rescued “most” of the hostages being held captive al Qaeda-linked militants during the two-day standoff that has killed at least 68 people and injured 175.
The military assault began shortly before sundown, with one helicopter skimming very close to the roof of the shopping complex as a loud explosion rang out. Kenyan police said on Twitter simultaneously that security forces had launched a “major” assault to end the bloody siege.
“This will end tonight. Our forces will prevail. Kenyans are standing firm against aggression, and we will win,” Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Centre said on Twitter.
The Kenya Defence Forces later said it had rescued “most” hostages and had taken control of most of the mall, though it did not provide further details.
Many of the rescued hostages — mostly adults — were suffering from dehydration, Colonel Cyrus Oguna, a military spokesman said. He refused to say how many hostages were rescued or how many were still being held. He said some of the attackers had “most probably” been killed in the operation.
The assault came about 30 hours after al-Shabab extremists stormed the mall Saturday from two sides, throwing grenades and firing on civilians. Between 10 or 15 militants participated in the siege and NBC reported yesterday that the FBI was investigating claims that as many as five US citizens were among the small team of terrorists that attacked the mall. One eyewitness also claimed that a white British woman being involved in the attack.
GUNFIRE AND GRENADES
Loud exchanges of gunfire rang out from inside the four-story mall throughout yesterday. Kenyan troops were seen carrying in at least two rocket-propelled grenades. Al-Shabab militants reportedly reacted angrily to the helicopters on Twitter and warned that the military action was endangering hostages.
Kenyan authorities said they would do their utmost to save hostages’ lives, but no officials could say precisely how many people were being held captive. Kenya’s Red Cross said in a statement, citing police, that 49 people had been reported missing. Officials did not make an explicit link but that number could give an indication of the number of people held captive.
Kenya’s Red Cross said the death toll rose to 68 after nine bodies were recovered yesterday. More than 175 people were injured, including many children, Kenyan officials said.
Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked rebel group, al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the attack that specifically targeted non-Muslims, saying it was in retribution for Kenyan forces’ 2011 push into neighbouring Somalia.
US Secretary of State John Kerry condemned what he called “an enormous offence against everybody’s sense of right and wrong,” and called the attackers “ruthless and completely reckless terrorists.”
Kerry, who was in New York, for meetings at the United Nations, spoke yesterday with Somalia’s foreign minister and UN ambassador. US President Barack Obama also called Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta to offer his support.
Earlier in the day, al-Shabab said on its new Twitter feed — after its previous one was shut down on Saturday — that Kenyan officials were asking the hostage-takers to negotiate and offering incentives.
“We’ll not negotiate with the Kenyan govt (sic) as long as its forces are invading our country, so reap the bitter fruits of your harvest,” al-Shabab said in a tweet.
Kenyatta, who lost a nephew and the nephew’s fiancee in the attack, reiterated his government’s determination to continue fighting al-Shabab.
“We went as a nation into Somalia to help stabilize the country and most importantly to fight terror that had been unleashed on Kenya and the world,” said Kenyatta. “We shall not relent on the war on terror.”
Former Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga told local reporters that “quite a number” of people were being held hostage in two areas of the sprawling complex, which includes stores for such retail giants as Nike, Adidas and Bose. Many hostages were believed to be in a supermarket and general department store called Nakumatt.
Kenyan security officials sought to reassure the families of hostages but implied that some of those being held could be killed. “The priority is to save as many lives as possible,” said Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Lenku, adding that more than 1,000 people had escaped.
Kenyans and foreigners were among those confirmed dead, including British, French, Canadians, Indians, a Ghanaian, a South African and a Chinese woman.
Herald with AP