Gunfire, explosions as special forces launch final assault on attackers
Posted Tuesday, September 24 2013 at 01:00
Kenyan security forces appear to have launched an assault on the Westgate shopping complex in the capital Nairobi in an attempt to break the siege there yesterday.
Gunfire and explosions were heard at the complex and a cloud of smoke could be seen billowing from the building.
A Kenyan police official said security forces had rescued some hostages held by the attackers.
More than 69 people have died and more than 170 have been injured since the attack began on Saturday.
The Somali al-Shabab movement has said it carried out the attack. It said it was in retaliation for Kenyan military operations in Somalia.
The latest round of gunfire and explosions appeared to have been a dramatic turn of events in the security forces’ operation, the BBC’s Mike Wooldridge reported from Nairobi.
Television pictures showed troops running towards the complex. About 10 attackers were thought to be inside.
Thick clouds of dense black smoke billowed from the complex after a series of loud explosions and heavy gunfire.
Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said the fire at the building was started by the “terrorists”.
“Two of the attackers were killed this morning, and others injured,” said Ole Lenku. He gave a death toll of 62, lower than that of the Kenyan Red Cross, who says 69 died.
Ole Lenku also told a press briefing that security forces have freed some but not all of the hostages in the Nairobi shopping mall siege.
“Thumbs up to our multi-agency team, we have just managed to rescue some hostages,” police chief David Kimaiyo said in a message on Twitter on the third day of the standoff.
“We’re increasingly gaining advantage of the attackers.”
The area around the mall was teeming with Kenyan soldiers and armoured personnel carriers, as emergency workers and reporters were told to take cover.
Ambulances were also seen accelerating towards the scene as aircraft flew overhead.
A Kenyan special forces officer told AFP troops had moved in to end the siege with force. “I saw them only once, I could not see them much,” he said. “It was hide-and-seek, hide-and-seek, hide-and-seek. In the end we had to use full force, we had to finish with these guys.”
Security and intelligence sources told AFP that Israeli agents were also assisting in the operation. Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Centre said a “major engagement” with the Al Qaeda-linked al Shabab fighters was in process.
“All efforts are underway to bring this matter to a speedy conclusion,” it said, adding four of its soldiers were wounded in what appeared to be the final efforts to secure the mall, which is popular with wealthy Kenyans and expatriates.