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

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
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
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
newsJohn Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
News
i100
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
News
Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter's pose
newsRosie the Riveter started out as an American wartime poster girl and has become a feminist pin-up. With Beyoncé channeling her look, Gillian Orr tells her story
Life and Style
Donna and Paul Wheatley at their wedding
healthShould emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
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

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?

Some couples are allowed emergency hospital weddings, others are denied the right. Kate Hilpern reports on the growing case for a compassionate cutting of the red tape
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
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