'Terrorists have made us too scared to go shopping'

More than 60 people were killed and almost 200 injured after a terrorist attack on an exclusive shopping mall popular with foreigners and well off Kenyans in Nairobi yesterday.

News organisations claim al-Shababa,  group of militant Somalians opposed to Kenyan government troops in their country, fired heavy weapons and threw hand grenades in the posh Westgate shopping mall in the Kenyan capital at about 11am. The gunmen were thought to have taken up to 15 people hostage and are still under siege by soldiers and police. 

Aljazeera, the Arab news organisation, reported yesterday evening that al-Shababa had claimed it carried out the attack. The group later said on Twitter: "The attack at #WestgateMall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders," the account stated. "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." It continued by saying that the Kenyan government was "pleading with our mujahideen inside the mall for negotiations. There will be no negotiations whatsoever".

Kenyan government sources said one wounded attacker was arrested but died in hospital.

Lorna Kerubo, who spoke exclusively to The-Latest.Com from her Nairobi office, said: "Judging by what I'm seeing on local TV, lots of people are dead. So many people were at the mall today because it is a busy Saturday."

Some of her colleagues were at the centre because Safaricom, the phone company for which she works, has a customer care shop there. Fortunately, none of them were killed or injured.

Kerubo added: "I feel sad for the dead, the injured and the hostages, especially the children."

She went on to say that many Kenyans had for some time been scared to go to shopping malls because of claims carried in the Kenyan news media that Somalian militants had threatened a terrorist attack again them.

"It is a possibility that it is an attack by terrorists, so we are treating the matter very seriously," said Mutea Iringo, the principal secretary in the Ministry of Interior.

A witness said that gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted.

Iringo added: "I would say so far we have at least 15 dead. The casualties are many, and that's only what we have on the outside," Kenya Red Cross Society Secretary General Abbas Guled told the Reuters news agency.

Elijah Kamau told AP that attackers with AK-47s and grenades made the statement about Muslims as they began their attack.

Situated in the upmarket suburb of Westlands, close to the city centre, people travel to the mall and its surrounding area for its restaurants, shopping, bars and clubs. Shops include a large Nakumatt supermarket, situated alongside banks including Barclays, clothing stores, a cinema, and a food court upstairs with tapas and sushi restaurants.

The mall is very popular with expats and middle-class Kenyans, and hosts a mixture of local shops and Western brands such as Adidas and Converse.

There have been repeated warnings over the last couple of years that it could attract terrorists wanting to stage a dramatic attack. 

Al-Shabab has carried out a string of attacks in Kenya since 2011, when Kenyan troops moved into southern Somalia to fight the militants there. On its own Twitter account, al-Shabab said it had "on numerous occasions warned the Kenyan government that failure to remove its forces from Somalia would have severe consequences".

Some eyewitnesses told AFP news agency they had heard the gunmen speaking Arabic or Somali. 

In 1998, Al Qaeda killed more than 200 people in an enormous truck bombing of the American Embassy in downtown Nairobi, while simultaneously attacking the American Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Islamist terrorists also struck an Israeli-owned hotel on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast in 2002 and fired missiles at an Israeli airliner.

  • The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, based at King's College, London, says on its website

    * Over 40 Americans and dozens of Europeans are already fighting for al-Shabaab.
    * Thanks to the success of al-Shabaab, at no other time since before 9/11 has al-Qaeda been as well positioned to oversee terrorist attacks on Western soil.
    * Although the majority of al-Shabab’s Western recruits are of Somali origin, the group also has significant support among radicalised Muslim converts in the West.
    * To date, no other al-Qaeda franchise has seen as high a level of Western recruitment than al-Shabaab.