NAIROBI, Sep 24 – Kenyan troops are in “control” of Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall three days after a deadly siege by Islamists, who, according to Kenya’s foreign minister, include “two to three Americans” and a British woman.
As the interior ministry said early on Tuesday that all hostages trapped by the militants are believed to have been freed, Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed underlined the global scope of the attack.
Somalia’s Al Qaeda-linked Shabaab insurgents have claimed the attack, which began midday on Saturday when the armed militants marched into the complex, tossed grenades and fired automatic weapons and sent panicked shoppers fleeing.
A government spokesman told AFP the siege, in which the attackers massacred at least 62 shoppers and staff, was close to being declared over. He said special forces combing the building were no longer encountering any resistance.
“Our special forces are inside the building checking the rooms. We think that everyone, the hostages, have been evacuated, but we don’t want to take any chances,” Manoah Esipisu said.
“The special forces call this sanitising. At the moment they have not met any resistance, but of course we are not ruling out the possibility that there are a couple of them hiding in a remote room or corner,” he added.
“We’re in control of Westgate,” the interior ministry said in a message on Twitter. Throughout the night the area around the mall was quiet, with security personnel either moving or appearing relaxed.
No details on the numbers of hostages released have been given, but 63 people were earlier recorded missing by the Red Cross, a figure thought to include hostages as well as those possibly killed.
Almost 200 were wounded in the attack, and at least 11 Kenyan troops were wounded in intense gun battles on Monday, the army said.
Special forces on Monday also killed at least three gunmen and wounded several in bitter fighting in the part Israeli-owned complex, which was popular with wealthy Kenyans and expatriates. A Kenyan security source and a Western intelligence official said Israeli forces were also involved in operations, along with British and US agents.
Kenyan military chief Julius Karangi said the gunmen were of different nationalities. Many foreign fighters, including Somalis with dual nationalities, are members of the Shabaab force.
“They are from different countries. We have sufficient intelligence this is global terrorism,” Karangi said.
In an interview with US public broadcaster PBS, Kenya’s top diplomat said Americans and a British woman were among the attackers.
“The Americans, from the information we have, are young men, about between maybe 18 and 19,” she said.
Asked if the Briton was a woman, she replied: “Woman. And she has, I think, done this many times before.”
Interior Minister Joseph ole Lenku had earlier denied that any of the insurgents were women: “All the terrorists are men,” he said, noting: “Some of them had dressed like women.”
Police said they had also arrested more than 10 people for questioning.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose nephew was killed along with his fiancee, called the attack “despicable and beastly.”
The Shabaab rebels said the carnage was in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia where they are battling the Islamists.
“If you want Kenya in peace, it will not happen as long as your boys are in our lands,” rebel spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage said in a statement posted on an Islamist website.