Nairobi, Kenya — Gunman stormed an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Saturday, spraying bullets and killing at least 39 people, as well as taking numerous hostages, according to a CNN report.
Kenyan police and soldiers continued to face off with the attackers Sunday. Authorities say two gunman have been killed but more are still in Westgate mall where the attack took place.
There are also an unknown number of hostages still in parts of the mall, according to Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Centre. “That is what we suspect. We cannot share any further information,” said the agency.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said at least 39 people have been killed, including some of his close relatives.
It is unclear how many gunman are still in the mall, or what they plan to do with the people still trapped inside.
An al Qaeda-linked militant group based in Somalia known as Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack, and vowed not to negotiate with the Kenyan authorities.
The group claimed “all Muslims” were escorted from the mall before the attack.
Al-Shabaab tweeted late Saturday, “The Mujahideen are still strong inside Westgate Mall and still holding their ground. All praise is due to Allah!”
Its account has now been suspended.
The attack started around noon on Saturday. Gunshots suddenly rang out as people were shopping or eating lunch throughout the mall.
According to eyewitnesses, as the gunshots continued and became louder, screaming crowds headed for the exits.
Some got outside only to discover bullets were flying around out there as well, and turned back into the mall.
Kaigwa-Okoye and about 20 other people hid for five hours inside a women’s bathroom cubicle.
He said, “They had grenades, and it was really, really loud,” adding that he also noticed tear gas in the corridors. “All of us felt like they were close.”
Confusion reigned as witnesses said it was hard to tell the police and soldiers from the terrorists, and the gunfire continued intermittently, making an escape seem futile.
One customer who escaped through a mall supermarket said, “There was blood throughout the supermarket. It wasn’t clear if it was OK to exit.”
The national disaster agency said five “visibly shaken hostages” were released early Sunday morning.
An hour later, the agency tweeted “major operations underway”, but no one seems to know what that meant.
Authorities said most of the casualties are Kenyan, but the mall is popular with expatriates and foreign nationals, who were also among those killed and injured.
The French government said two French nationals were killed.
Canada’s Prime Minister’s office reported two Canadians died in the attack, including a diplomat.
Several American citizens were among the wounded, but none among the dead, according to the U.S. State Department.
Westerners are reported to be high on Al-Shabaab’s list.
At least 293 people have been hospitalized at three local hospitals, according to reports. The injured range from age 2 to 78.
Kenyan agencies made a plea for blood donations, and Francis Kimemia, secretary to the Cabinet, tweeted “Hospitals are appealing for more blood, the response is incredible but more is needed.”
Kenya’s president blasted “the despicable perpetrators of this cowardly act,” and vowed they would be brought to justice.
Terrorism has occurred in Kenya before. Since Kenya launched attacks against Al-Shabaab in Somalia in 2011, the group has hurled grenades at Kenyan churches, bus stops, and other public places, said a CNN report.
In a televised speech late Saturday, Kenyan President Kenyatta said, “We shall hunt down the perpetrators wherever they run to. We shall get them, and we shall punish them for this heinous crime.” Image/Reuters