22 Sep 2013

Nairobi shopping centre attack: as it happens

Timeline: How a busy Saturday at a smart Nairobi mall descended into a bloodbath as al-Shabaab terrorists stormed the centre, going from shop to shop shooting. 59 are dead, a siege remains.

Al-Shabaab militants are still inside the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, Kenya

Saturday morning

It was a busy Saturday morning in a popular upmarket shopping mall. Westgate described itself as Nairobi’s premier shopping mall – a “first world interior”… ” where local and international shoppers feel at home”. Its 80 stores included Adidas, Nike, pizza restaurants and the four floors (350,000 sq feet) centred around a waterfall. Approximately 1,000 people were in the mall on Saturday morning.

A local radio station had been hosting a children’s cooking competition that morning – attended by many people at the front of the building. The winners were about to receive their prizes.

Saturday 12.30pm Kenyan time (10.30am UK time)

The attack is launched.

Five Al-Shabaab militants stormed in the front entrance according to reports from eyewitness to Reuters who also reported a screech of brakes and explosions.

The five approached the shop’s gates but pulled their guns before reaching the mall’s security guards, according to another eyewitness report to the Daily Nation.

Shoppers initially assumed the attack to be a robbery as the assailants starting by shooting in the air. The leader of the brigade who came in first was a woman, according to several accounts.

“They were not shooting to kill, they were shooting into the air to scare us away; I first thought that it was an ordinary robbery,” Mr Frank Musungu told the paper. Then things turned.

Mr Musungu described the assailants as heartless people who shot aimlessly. “One of them wrapped a white turban on his head. They were very young and the woman appeared to be lethal,” he added.

“They were very young but had no mercy.”

Saturday 12.40pm

It is believed a total of 10-15 perpetrators entered the building, with four at least staging a second entrance through the basement car park. Kenyan Standard Media carried this report of the second attack.

“Ben Mulwa who said a bullet aimed at his head missed by a millimetre narrated that he saw four men armed with long guns enter the mall through the basement parking lot.

“Mulwa said the men had keffiyeh (a kind of checked scarf popularised by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat) wrapped around their necks.

“The gunmen aimed at security guards who they eliminated through shooting before accessing other parts of the building.”

According to other eye-witnesses – Muslims were allowed to leave the mall, before the shooting started with shoppers allegedly asked to name the Prophet’s mother to prove their identity. Witnesses reported that non-Muslims were shot point-blank.

Attackers started spraying the crowds with bullets and throwing grenades.

Armed police shouted “get out, get out”, and scores of shoppers fled the building. Smoke poured out of one entrance.

1. Five attackers were reported to have entered the Westgate shopping centre through the main entrance at 12:30pm local time, though it is believed between 10 and 15 militants are currently inside.

2. Security forces are said to be focusing their efforts on the Nakumatt supermarket on Sunday.

3. "We started by hearing gunshots downstairs and outside. Later we heard them come inside. We took cover. Then we saw two gunmen wearing black turbans. I saw them shoot." - Patrick Kuria, an employee at restaurant Artcaffe.

4. Three bodies were found in this children's shoe shop.

5. Two dead bodies were found in the burger bar by Westgate's entrance, locked in a final embrace.

6. Militants are also reported to have gained access to the shopping centre through basement parking lots, where they took out security guards.

7. A number of the victims, including radio journalist Ruhila Adatia, were attending a cookery competition for children in the parking lot on the top floor of the shopping centre.

Saturday 1pm

Police helicopters and armoured personnel carriers pulled into the scene as security forces arrived and a fierce gun battle between security forces and the AK-47 armed terrorists erupts, with soldiers and police hunting the militants through the shops of the mall. Witnesses said the attackers were armed with AK-47 rifles and wore ammunition belts.

Saturday 2pm

Security forces manage to isolate the terrorists who retreat to the Nakumatt supermarket – which spreads across two floors in the building. They have an unconfirmed number of hostages.

Saturday 2.30pm

Sporadic gun shots could be heard almost two hours after the shooting started as police combed the building looking for the wounded.

Some shoppers ran up stairs and escalators and hid around the mall’s cinema complex. Police found another terrified group hiding in a toilet on the first floor.

Stories of the attackers emerged. Satpal Singh, who was in another cafe on the mall’s top floor said he ran downstairs when he heard the gunfire and was shot at near the mall’s main exit: “A Somali guy shot at me. The guy who shot me was carrying a rifle, an AK-47,” 36-year-old Singh said.

“We started by hearing gunshots downstairs and outside. Later we heard them come inside. We took cover. Then we saw two gunmen wearing black turbans. I saw them shoot,” said Patrick Kuria, an employee at Artcaffe, the restaurant with shady outdoor seating.

Saturday 3pm

A police officer inside the building said the gunmen were barricaded inside a Nakumatt supermarket – a large franchise that stretched across two floors.

Shooting continued, troops surrounded the Westgate mall and police and soldiers combed the building picking up the dead and the injured.

In restaurants at the front of the mall, the dead were strewn around tables of unfinished meals. At one food outlet, a man and woman lay in a final embrace after they had been killed, before their bodies were later removed.

“We got three bodies from this shop,” said volunteer Vipool Shah, 64, standing a dozen metres from the supermarket entrance and pointing to a children’s shoe shop where blood lay in pools.

Shah turned to a nearby burger bar where piped music still played and food lay abandoned. “And a couple of bodies here.” The dead included children and the wounded ranged in age from two to 78.

Saturday 4pm

It emerged that the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had close relatives among the dead, and the death count climbed to 39.

Death count: France said two of its citizens were killed, and Canada said two Canadians died, including a 29-year-old diplomat. A Chinese woman was also killed, China’s official news agency said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who offered assistance to Kenya in the incident, said several US citizens had been hurt and the wife of a US diplomat working for the US Agency for International Development was killed.

Saturday 7pm

The Kenyan presidency said on its Twitter feed that one wounded gunman had been arrested, but died hours later in hospital.

Saturday 9pm

Al-Shabaab claim responsibility for the attack on their Twitter feed.

Saturday midnight

There is a lull in shooting at midnight, the situation develops into a standoff between the gunmen, hostages and security forces outside.

Sunday 3.30am

Police said the stand-off was focused around the Nakumatt supermarket, where the attackers were said to be holding hostages. Relatives of hostages thought still to be trapped inside the Westgate mall were keeping vigil in a nearby Hindu centre, waiting for the next move by the security forces.

Kevin Jamal said his sister was taken hostage while shopping at the mall, and he had been waiting for more than six hours. “I want her to come out alive,” Jamal told Reuters as he joined Kenya Red Cross Society volunteers for a meal of hot curry and chips served by the centre.

Mr Jamal said the Kenyan security agencies could have done better, saying “they should not allow themselves to be outmanoeuvred by less than 20 people.”

Sunday 11am

A 30 second burst of gunfire is heard, after a period of tense quiet in the standoff. Shortly after the shots were fired, security forces in camouflage ran crouching below a restaurant terrace along the front of the building, taking a different position.

Sunday after 11am

Woman emerged from the shopping centre after hiding under a car in the basement. She was holding one shoe and looked dazed, and was making a frantic phone call to her husband who later met her.

Sunday midday

Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku announces that the death toll had doubled 59 people had been killed, 175 taken to hospital, and 1,000 evacuated from the building. The standoff continues, the minister said, with no communication yet been established with the militants.

Sunday 1pm

Al-Shabaab says on Twitter that the Kenyan government has renewed calls to negotiate with the militants. “We’ll not negotiate with the Kenyan government as long as its forces are invoading our country”, the group says.

Sunday 3pm

Israeli forces join Kenyan troops surrounding the siege.

Sunday 4pm

Three Britons are confirmed dead in the shooting by the UK Foreign Office with numbers likely to rise.

Sunday 5.30pm

Kenya’s president announces that security forces confronting militants in a Nairobi shopping mall had as good a chance “as we can hope for” of neutralising the attackers.

“The criminals are now located in one place within the building. With the professionals on site, I assure Kenyans that we have as good a chance to successfully neutralise the terrorists as we can hope for,” he said in an address.

Sunday 7pm

Kenyan and Israeli forces launch heavy bombardment of the area, with fire from above. 30 hostages are estimated to be inside. The siege continues

Sunday 11pm

CNN claimed to have substantiated online rumours that several of the gunmen are Americans and Europeans of Somali orgin.

“This will end tonight” promises the Kenyan authorities as they step up the pressure on the besieged militants.