Kenya shopping mall attack latest: Military takes control of shopping centre and says all hostages freed

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

Nairobi

Four deafening explosions at lunchtime on Monday marked what was the beginning of the end of Kenya’s worst terror attack since the 1990s.

By this morning, Kenyan security forces had taken control of the Nairobi shopping mall where Islamist fighters had killed at least 62 people, and police were doing a final sweep of the building after all remaining hostages had been freed.

A burst of gunfire from inside the Westgate mall  had broke the overnight silence as a military helicopter circled above.

Late on Monday security forces said that most of the hostages had been released, but it remained unclear whether all of the attackers had been killed or detained. Hurried ranks of commandos could be seen charging into the upmarket shopping mall that has been the scene of a murderous stand-off with Kenyan authorities since it was stormed by Islamic militants on Saturday afternoon.

As troops moved into the four-storey building and helicopters circled overhead, a column of black smoke began to rise from the rooftop.

Inside the mall fighters loyal to the Somali Islamist militia al-Shabaab had barricaded themselves in. They were holding an estimated 30 hostages and had lit fires to confuse the troops.

One member of the Kenyan force said that at least two of the terrorists died in the ground-floor supermarket where much of the fighting has been concentrated. “They just blew themselves up,” the soldier said by phone from inside the security cordon.

The day had begun with exchanges of fire and an abortive attempt by Kenyan forces, assisted by Israeli units, to seize back control of the battered shopping centre.

The lunchtime blasts swelled the crowds of onlookers. By mid-afternoon there was the bizarre spectacle of Kenyan police launching tear gas at onlookers and firing warning rounds into the air while at the same time only 100 metres away soldiers were exchanging fire with the militants in the mall.

As acrid yellow clouds of gas swirled around the hillside overlooking the disaster scene, heavy-calibre weapons could be heard from the direction of Westgate and a handful of young Kenyans threw stones at the police. The frayed tempers were evidence of a bloody stand-off that has lasted longer than anyone had predicted. The death toll from the attack which had climbed to 69 was revised back down to 62 late in the day but the Kenyan Red Cross said that 63 people were missing.

However, the number of UK citizens confirmed killed has continued to climb. Six Britons are now known to have died but that figure may rise further, the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said.

There were also reports that a “white woman” was among the attackers killed on Monday but there was no official confirmation. Several survivors of Saturday’s killing spree recalled seeing a “European-looking woman” among the heavily armed militants who were separating Muslims from non-Muslims and killing scores of weekend shoppers.

This has fuelled speculation that the Briton Samantha Lewthwaite, dubbed the “White Widow”, and previously married to one of the London 7/7 bombers, was among the attackers.

A stream of confident predictions have flowed from Kenyan authorities but few have been borne out by events. On Monday night the Inspector General of the Kenyan police, David Kimaiyo, said two of the militants had been killed and “several others injured”.

“Taken control of all the floors,” he later tweeted. “We’re not here to feed the attackers with pastries but to finish and punish them.”

Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said the evacuation of hostages “has gone very, very well” and that Kenyan officials are “very certain” that there are few if any hostages left in the building.

"Our forces are combing the mall floor by floor looking for anyone left behind. We believe all hostages have been released," Mr Ole Lenku said on Twitter.

Security sources suggested that this confidence was premature. So far the militants have proven better prepared and have succeeded in repelling a number of attacks.

Their durability has led security services to investigate the possibility that they may have had support from inside the mall – possibly a cache of arms or explosives deposited prior to the attack.

“They seem to have an arsenal with them,” said an official. “When these guys lit the fires it stopped us and we weren’t able to proceed.”

Adding to the sense that the attackers had received outside assistance, Kenya’s interior ministry reported that it had arrested “individuals” at the airport.

There was no official confirmation of the fate of the hostages, with Kenyan police earlier revising downward their estimate of the number being held from 30 to 10. Military planners had been using CCTV pictures of the interior of the complex to try to calculate both the numbers of terrorists as well as the position of hostages and members of the public still in hiding.

At the Oshwal centre, a Kenyan-Indian community centre and Jain temple, which has been offering emergency assistance to survivors as well as basic facilities for families awaiting news, there were only two wounded Kenyan soldiers on Monday.

The pillars of the underground car park, where volunteers, family and reporters have sheltered during the regular exchanges of fire nearby, have been plastered with pictures of the missing.

Among them was the smiling photograph printed on black and white paper of Ravi Ramrattan, a young man from the Caribbean, who was believed to be an alumnus of the London School of Economics. His body was among those identified in the Nakumatt supermarket.

He had initially maintained contact with friends on the outside through text messages and phone calls. One of his friends, who had volunteered to counsel survivors as he kept vigil for Mr Ramrattan, said that, trapped inside, he had kept asking when the rescue operation would reach him. When he stopped replying to messages it had been hoped that his phone’s battery was exhausted. It is not known exactly how and when he died.

Meanwhile, there was the suggestion the attackers were taking orders from Somalia. A spokesman from al-Shabaab in Somalia, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, restated the group’s claim to the attack. In an audio file posted on a website, he said the militants had been ordered to “take punitive action against the hostages” if security forces tried to storm their way in.

Further reading:

The victims came from around the world. So did their killers
Was wife of 7/7 bomber among attackers?
Kenyans are more united in tragedy’s aftermath
The victims: The architect and his pregnant wife
Video: Amateur footage from Kenya shopping mall attack
Ian Birrell: How to fight al-Shabaab

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems Analyst (Technical, UML, UI)

£30000 - £40000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Cost Reporting-MI Packs-Edinburgh-Bank-£350/day

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Cost Reporting Manager - MI Packs -...

Senior Private Client Solicitor - Gloucestershire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - We are makin...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Support Developer

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A unique and rare opport...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn