Kenya’s President Kenyatta says the military operation at the Nairobi shopping mall has ended in defeat for al-Shabaab. But the jihadist group, which killed 67 in the four-day siege, claims victory.
President Kenyatta said that 61 civilians had lost their lives in the attack, and that six members of the security forces had also “made the ultimate sacrifice”.
These cowards will meet justice, as will their accomplices and patrons wherever they are. President Uhuru Kenyatta
He did not confirm reports that a British woman and “two or three Americans” were amongst the group that attacked the shopping centre, but said that forensic experts were working to establish the nationalities of the attackers. Some have speculated that Briton Samantha Lewthwaite was involved in the attack.
“I promise that we will have a full accountability for the mindless destruction, deaths, pain, loss and suffering we have undergone as a national family,” he said in a national address.
“These cowards will meet justice, as will their accomplices and patrons wherever they are.”
He also said that three floors in the Westgate shopping centre had collapsed “towards the tail end of the operation”” and that there were people, including militants, trapped underneath.
Earlier in the day Kenya’s interior ministry had said security forces were “mopping out the building”, clearing out explosives that had been left by the militant attackers.
Kenya’s defence forces also sent a message to al-Shabaab, tweeting publicly that “such cowardly acts of terrorism will not dampen KDF (Kenya Defence Forces) resolve to ensure that peace and stability is regained in Somalia and in the region”.
KDF continue to neutralize terrorist threat, troops now in mop up operations in the building. More to follow…
— InteriorCNG Ministry (@InteriorKE) September 24, 2013
When the President and CIC holds the press conference, he will issue an official statement on all the queries that you have. Be patient.
— Kenya Police (@PoliceKE) September 24, 2013
Such cowardly acts of terrorism will not dampen KDF resolve to ensure that peace&stability is regained in Somalia& in the region.
— Kenya Defence Forces (@kdfinfo) September 24, 2013
The apparent end of the siege came as Nairobi’s city morgue was warned to expect a large number of bodies on Tuesday.
An official told the Associated Press that the morgue had been told to prepare for the influx of corpses. The death toll in the terror attack currently stands at 62, with most of these bodies having been already taken to the city morgue.
The grim warning comes as Kenyan officials say security forces are now in control of the Westgate shopping centre, despite suggestions from al-Shabaab, the Somali-based, al-Qaeda linked group, that it is still holding hostages inside.
Kenya’s Citizen TV reported that troops had killed “six of the remaining attackers” at the shopping mall, but did not give further details and the report was unsourced.
“Security forces killed six of the remaining attackers,” the channel said in a brief headline.
However, the Islamist militant group said its militants were still holding out in the shopping centre and said the hostages they held were still alive.
“There are countless number of dead bodies still scattered inside the mall, and the Mujahideen (fighters) are still holding their ground #Westgate,” the group said on its new Twitter feed.
“The hostages who were being held by the Mujahideen inside #Westgate are still alive, looking quite disconcerted but, nevertheless, alive.”
An overnight silence outside the large, upmarket Westgate mall was broken at daybreak with a loud burst of gunfire from inside, suggesting the complex had not yet been fully secured.
“Our forces are combing the mall floor by floor looking for anyone left behind. We believe all hostages have been released,” the ministry of interior said on Twitter early on Tuesday, adding that its forces were “in control” of the building.
— Jamal Osman (@JamalMOsman) September 24, 2013
A trickle of survivors left the shopping centre on Monday, but the fate of the missing was unclear four days after a group of between 10 and 15 militants stormed the mall which, with its rich clientele, epitomised the African consumer bonanza that is drawing foreign investment to one of the world’s fastest-growing regions.
Kenyan officials have tried to reassure the country that it would seize control of the situation.
“We appeal for patience, keep calm, avoid Westgate at all costs and wait for the official communication,” officials said on Twitter.
A press briefing is expected later on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Somalia’s prime minister has sid he is working closely with Kenyan authorities and has called for international support to combat al-Shabaab militants.
Abdi Farah Shirdon told reporters in Geneva that he believed the Westgate attackers were of different nationalities.
He later told the UN Human Rights Council: “The terror attack on 21 September spared no-one, and those responsible must be held accountable. Terror has no boundaries.”