A group of masked Islamic terrorists stormed a popular Kenyan shopping mall this past Saturday. Witnesses say that the attackers warned that any Muslims should run away and then proceeded to open fire on other shoppers. The death toll has reached a staggering 68 people and over 175 have been reported injured. This attack is said to be the deadliest assault in Kenya since the U.S. Embassy bombings in 1998 – an Al Qaeda assault that killed more than 200 people.
The upscale mall, called Westgate, is located in the nations capital of Nairobi. The popular five-story center acts as a representation of Kenya’s rising economic status. However, American officials have warned that malls such as this one are “ripe targets for terrorists.” The weekends provide for especially large crowds, and this past Saturday was no different.
This terrorist group that decided to act was the Islamist militant group, al-Shabab. The Somalian group cites the reason for their attack as “revenge against Kenya’s military operations in Somalia.” Al-Shabab’s spokesman, Mohamoud Rage said, “Kenya will not get peace unless they pull their military out of Somalia.”
The attack began around noon. Eight al-Shabab gunsmen entered the mall and began firing at civilians. They wore scarves to hide their faces and were armed with machine guns and AK-47 rifles. A second group later added to the force, totaling to 10-15 attackers. They were also armed with G-3 assault rifles and throwing grenades. Fred Ngoga Gateretse, an African Union official and witness, heard the initial blasts and claimed, “…These guys were good shooters. You could tell they were trained.”
Kenyan police officers immediately began action against the invaders as terrified shoppers ran in search of cover. Some of those inside were lucky to escape through fire exits or by climbing over walls; others had to find refuge inside of air vents. Though Kenyan forces were able to rescue about 1,000 people, as many as 40 hostages remain inside. A witness reported, “They were shooting from the exit ramp, shooting everywhere. I saw people being shot all around me, some with blood pouring from bad wounds. I was just praying …that my day hadn’t come.” About 50 people remain unaccounted for. It is uncertain whether or not there will be new additions to the already high death toll.
Many emigrants frequent the luxurious mall, resulting in deaths that affected more than just Kenyan citizens. Two Canadians, one a diplomat based in Nairobi, and two French civilians were killed. Though no Americans have been reported as killed, four were injured. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, confirmed that three Britons also died.
The Kenyan government has been making herculean efforts to put an end to this siege. President Uhuru Kenyatta says that “The criminals are now located in one place within the building….I assure Kenyans that we have as good a chance to successfully neutralize the terrorists as we can hope for.” The Washington Post reports that one of Kenyatta’s nephews and his fiancé were among those killed in the attack.
According to The New York Times, al-Shabab have pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda and impose “a harsh and brutal version of Islam in their territory.” There is worry that this attack could mark a new wave of strikes from Al Qaeda. Kenyatta has other thoughts though. He remains hopeful and says, “We have overcome terrorist attacks before. We will defeat them again.”