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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power