News / Africa

Smoke Pours From Kenya Mall As Forces ‘Close In’

  • Smoke rises from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 25 2013. 
  • Catholic nuns pray near the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 25, 2013.
  • Fresh graves of Westgate Mall shooting victims in a cemetery in Nairobi, Sept. 25, 2013. 
  • Kenyan security forces stand on the top floor of a building facing the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 25, 2013.
  • Mary Italo, center, grieves with other relatives for her son Thomas Abayo Italo, 33, who was killed in the Westgate Mall attack, as they wait to receive his body at the mortuary in Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 25, 2013. 
  • Kenya Defense Forces soldiers take their position at the Westgate Mall, on the fourth day since militants stormed into the mall, in Nairobi, Sept. 24, 2013.
  • Heavy smoke rises from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 23, 2013.
  • Paramedics run outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi after heavy shooting, Sept. 23, 2013.
  • People donate blood for people injured in the attack at the Westgate Mall, at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Sept. 23, 2013.
  • Stephen, center, who lost his father in Saturday's attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, is comforted by relatives as he waits for the post mortem exam at the city morgue, Sept. 23, 2013.
  • Women carrying children run for safety as armed police hunt gunmen at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2013.
  • Civilians who had been hiding inside during the gun battle manage to flee from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2013.
Islamist Militants Attack Nairobi Mall
Thick smoke poured from the besieged Nairobi mall where Kenyan officials said their forces were closing in on Islamists holding hostages on Monday, the third day since Somalia's al-Shabab launched a raid that has killed at least 62 people.
It remained unclear how many gunmen and hostages were still cornered in the Westgate shopping center, after a series of loud explosions and gunfire were followed by black smoke billowing from one part of the complex.
Following a pattern of the past three days, bursts of gunfire and activity have been followed by long lulls.
Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku told a news conference that militants had set fire to mattresses in a supermarket on the mall's lower floors. His ministry later said the blaze was under control.
Ole Lenku said two attackers were killed on Monday, taking the total of dead militants so far to three, and added that none of the raiders was female although some had dressed as women. However, a security source and two soldiers said one white woman attacker had been killed.
President Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed on Sunday a demand that he pull Kenyan forces out of neighboring Somalia.
Kenyatta, who lost one of his own nephews in Saturday's bloodbath, said he would not relent in a “war on terror” in Somalia, where Kenyan troops have pushed al-Shababonto the defensive over the past two years as part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission across the northern border.

The gunmen came from “all over the world”, Julius Karangi, chief of the Kenyan general staff, without giving nationalities. “We are fighting global terrorism here,” he said.
US President Barack Obama discusses attack on Nairobi mall on Sept.23, 2013.US President Barack Obama discusses attack on Nairobi mall on Sept.23, 2013.
US President Barack Obama discusses attack on Nairobi mall on Sept.23, 2013.
US President Barack Obama discusses attack on Nairobi mall on Sept.23, 2013.
In Washington, officials said they were monitoring efforts by al-Shababto recruit in the United States but they had no direction information of any involvement by Americans in the Nairobi attack. President Barack Obama said Washington was offering Kenya all the cooperation it could in handling what he called a “terrible outrage”.
Security officials near the mall said the explosions heard at lunchtime were caused by Kenyan forces blasting a way in, but Ole Lenku said he had no information on any blasts and a military spokesman declined to comment on them.
Al-Shabab said it would kill hostages if police moved in.

Acting cautiously
Echoing other officials, who have highlighted successes in rescuing hundreds of trapped people after Saturday's massacre, Ole Lenku said most of the complex was under the authorities' control and escape was impossible.
“We are doing anything reasonably possible, cautiously though, to bring this process to an end,” Ole Lenku said, while another top police officer said Kenyan forces were “closing in”.
“The terrorists could be running and hiding in some stores, but all floors now are under our control,” the minister said.
Despite the minister's assertion that all the attackers were men, one intelligence officer and two soldiers told Reuters that one of the dead militants was a white woman. This is likely to fuel speculation that she is the wanted widow of one of the suicide bombers who attacked London's transport system in 2005.
Called the “white widow” by the British press, Samantha Lewthwaite is wanted in connection with an alleged plot to attack hotels and restaurants in Kenya. Asked if the dead woman was Lewthwaite, the intelligence officer said: “We don't know.”
Ole Lenku acknowledged “support” from foreign governments but said Kenyan forces were managing without it so far. Western powers have been alarmed by a spread of al-Qaida-linked violence across Africa, from Nigeria and Mali in the west, though Algeria and Libya in the north to Somalia and Kenya in the east.
Nairobi saw one of the first major attacks by al-Qaida, when it killed more than 200 people by bombing the U.S. embassy in 1998. Some analysts said the latest raid may show al-Shabablashing out in its weakness after being pushed back in Somali, but the risk of further international violence remains.
On Sunday, President Kenyatta said 10 to 15 assailants were holding an unknown number of hostages in one location, apparently the supermarket. On Monday, it was not clear whether they may be more dispersed, including on the upper floors.
A spokesman for al-Shababwarned they would kill hostages if Kenyan troops tried to storm their positions. “The mujahideen will kill the hostages if the enemies use force,” Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage said in an online audio statement.
On Twitter, the group posted: “They've obtained large amounts of ammunition and are, by the blessings of Allah alone, still firm and still dominating the show.”
The Red Cross and Ole Lenku put the death toll so far at 62. The Red Cross said it had also recorded 63 people as missing.
Guns and grenades
British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said he believed six Britons had been killed in the attack. Other foreign victims include citizens of China, Ghana, France, the Netherlands and Canada.
Survivors' tales of the assault by squads of attackers throwing grenades and spraying automatic fire have left little doubt the hostage-takers are willing to go on killing. Previous raids around the world, including at a desert gas plant in Algeria nine months ago, suggest they are also ready to die.
It remains unclear who the assailants are. Al-Shabab- the name means “The Lads” in Arabic - has thousands of Somali fighters but has also attracted foreigners to fight Western and African Union efforts to establish a stable government.
Kenya's president, son of post-colonial leader Jomo Kenyatta, is facing his first major security challenge since being elected in March. The crisis might have an impact on his troubles with the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
Judges there let his vice president, William Ruto, fly home for a week, suspending a trial on Monday in which Ruto is charged with crimes against humanity for allegedly coordinating violence after an election in 2007. Kenyatta is due to face trial on similar charges in November.
Al-Shabab's siege underlined its ability to cause major disruption with relatively limited resources, even after Kenyan and other African troops drove it from Somali cities.
“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 Mogadishu's Heritage Institute of Policy Studies.
Al-Shabab's last big attack abroad was a double bombing in Uganda that killed 77 people watching soccer on TV in 2010.​
Watch related video:

Kenyan Official: Most Hostages Rescued From Malli
September 23, 2013 5:12 PM
Kenya says only a few hostages remain inside the Nairobi shopping mall stormed by Islamist militants Saturday. Kenyan forces were still attempting to clear the mall of hostages and gunmen Monday, more than 48 hours after the incident began. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.

VOA Nairobi correspondent Gabe Joselow contributed to this report 

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Comment Sorting
by: Paul Gesimba from: Nairobi
September 24, 2013 1:44 AM
The UN Security Council must ow take a proactive approach in dealing with the Somalia crisis .Involving multinational force .Like in the case of DRC .The AMISOM forces in Somalia must be boosted by the inclusion of Ethiopian forces to force the Al Shabab militants to surrender or discuss peace terms .If the Kenyan troops were to pull out this may create a power vacuum that the Al Shabab may exploit to cause mayhem and spread their terror networks including piracy in the East coast .The Forces in the DRC should also be boosted by the inclusion of Tanzanian forces to foster peace and security in the region .

by: Gareth from: London
September 23, 2013 4:19 PM
My sympathies go out to everyone affected by this tragedy. I think it is important that we address why some terrorist attacks feature heavily in the news while others do not. Please read my post on why Al-Shabaab is in the news and Boko Haram is not despite an attack last week.

by: Eugene Hamptons from: San Diego
September 23, 2013 3:51 PM
Then Obama apologies ... and adds, who wants a free phone?

by: ali baba from: new york
September 23, 2013 3:30 PM
We need gorge w Bush to teach these criminals a lesson. those people need an iron fist to fight them no bribe to Muslim aids to Pakistan until they will able to get rid of fanatic thugs. the war against terrorism will not stop . there will be many lives will be lost ,but that is their choice.

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
September 23, 2013 12:09 PM
This war on terror is one that should not be left to nations on their own. El Shebaab claimed responsibility for the attacks that have killed more than 62 people. Russian diplomacy is giving teeth to terrorism all over the world. Imagine the support to Iran, North Korea and Syria; imagine that Obama became afraid to maintain his red line on Syria chemical weapon because of Russia - he denied drawing a line at all. But more than Russian diplomacy, the world's new way of fighting wars is another aid to terrorism. Wars are fought with kid gloves nowadays. Countries are no longer afraid of wars, because it means very little different from just having some form of incursion into a territory.

If it takes sacking governments and populace that harbor terrorist, people would take precaution to allow terrorists operate from their region. For the terrorists do not operate from the air, they do not work in vacuum, they live in countries and are well taken care of - the Abotabad issue in Pakistan can't be forgotten so easily. In North of Nigeria they live in government houses and houses of serving and/or retired officers. Is it until there is an attack of the 9/11/2001 scale before the world will know that terrorism must be eliminated? Even when they struck at that level, was the war not prosecuted like a civilian jamboree? And did the people not have two faces - with one smiling to the allied forces, and with another shooting or pointing the allied forces to the terrorists.

The world should rise once and decide what to do with this issue once and for all time to save lives from these beasts, some of whom are state sponsored.

by: Emilie from: Seattle
September 23, 2013 8:14 AM
There is a problem with the volume on this audio clip, but thanks for posting.
In Response

by: Munawar from: London
September 23, 2013 5:16 PM
You are right in saying terrorists and states sponsoring them should be dealt with iron hands. But, you are wrong on Syria where actually terrorists like Al-Shabab are funded by Qatar and Saudi Arabia and god fathered by US and Britain. Do I need to say Osama Bin Laden and Talibans became strong and a significant threat only after the war against Russians in Afghanistan which was supported by the west. Unfortuntaley, when nations only act in their self interest ignoring all the morality, then longer term results are disastrous. Only by truly acting for the greater good of mankind we can acheive peace and get rid of terrorists not matter where they originate from.

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