NAIROBI: Kenyan security forces have killed the militants who stormed an upscale Nairobi hotel compound, taking at least 14 lives and forcing hundreds of others into terrifying escapes, the government said on Wednesday.
More than 700 civilians were evacuated from the dusitD2 complex after a 20-hour, overnight siege that echoed a 2013 assault that killed 67 people in Nairobi’s Westgate shopping centre in the same neighbourhood.
Fifty people believed to have been in the complex remained unaccounted for by mid-afternoon on Wednesday, the Kenya Red Cross said, raising the prospect of a higher death toll even after President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the militants defeated.
“The security operation at dusit complex is over, and all the terrorists eliminated,” Kenyatta told the nation in a televised address, looking drained and grave.
“As of this moment, we can confirm that 14 innocent lives were lost through the hands of these murderous terrorists.” Kenyatta did not specify how many assailants there were, but CCTV clips showed at least five dressed in black.
One is seen waiting outside the restaurant before blowing himself up in a cloud of debris just after 3pm (1200 GMT) on Tuesday. Four others then shoot assault rifles crossing the car park.
The attack was claimed by Somali group al Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate fighting to topple the weak UN-backed government and impose strict Islamic law.
Air strikes against the group have stepped up under US President Donald Trump, but Tuesday’s attack showed it retains ability to strike outside Somalia’s borders.
American, Briton among dead
At least two groups of people were trapped throughout the night, with gunfire continuing as dawn broke.
Some sent text messages out begging for medical help.
Eleven Kenyans — including two best friends who worked to help Somalia — an American 9/11 survivor, and a British development professional were among the casualties.
Some victims had been dining in the Secret Garden restaurant and lay slumped at tables, photos seen by Reuters showed.
The complex is home to offices of international companies including Colgate Palmolive, Reckitt Benckiser, Pernod Ricard, Dow Chemical ad SAP, as well as the dusitD2 hotel, part of Thai group Dusit Thani.
Westgate mistakes avoided
Security forces appeared to have avoided the mistakes made during the 2013 attack, when police and soldiers shot at each other, then soldiers looted the Westgate mall.
“I thank ... the rescue operations commander ... the rest of the security forces for saving the hostages,” tweeted former legislator Boni Khalwale, whose daughter was saved.
One private security professional at the scene said many of the explosions, especially those followed by a short burst of gunfire, were special forces using small charges to blow open locked doors and clear rooms.
Mamadou Dia was on a business trip from Paris for STP Consultants when he ended up huddled in a room with Chinese and Canadian hotel guests and a waiter.
He received updates on his telephone. “They told us by text that the police knew we were in that room and that they would come, and one and a half hours later, the police came to evacuate us,” he said.
As armed officers escorted them out, the attackers started shooting at them “like snipers”, he said, adding police fired back.
Meanwhile, families at Chiromo morgue were told they could not view bodies until a forensic investigation had been performed, provoking grief and anger.
Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2019