On this third day of a deadly standoff at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, where dozens of people have been killed and more have been wounded by gunmen claiming to be part of a militant Islamist group, Kenyan officials are saying the siege soon may be over.
The nation’s police chief said his forces were “closing in on the attackers.” The claim came in a message posted just after 5 a.m. ET on David Kimaiyo’s official Twitter account.
About 2 1/2 hours later, Kenyan government spokesman Joseph Ole Lenku said that “our forces are in control of all the floors” at the mall” and “we think the operation will come to an end soon.” He also said “very, very” few people, if any, remain in the mall. At least two “terrorists” are dead, the spokesman added.
Nairobi is seven hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast. As of the early afternoon there on Monday:
— Smoke could be seen rising from the mall.
— “Multiple large explosions” had been heard, The Associated Press says.
— The death toll was said to be at least 62. (At 7:20 a.m. ET, government spokesman Lenku said earlier reports of 68 deaths were incorrect.) At least 175 people were said to be wounded.
— An unknown number of people might still be inside the mall. Some may have been hostages. Others may have been barricaded inside shops or restaurants.
The group that has claimed responsibility is al-Shabab. It’s one of several Islamist militant organizations in Africa that, as NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston has reported, has been of increasing concern to the U.S. intelligence community.
The AP writes that:
“Al-Shabab has warned for two years that it will attack Kenya in retaliation for the country’s leading role in sending troops to Somalia in 2011 and effectively reducing the extremist group’s power in Somalia. Al-Shabab also claimed responsibility for the July 2010 suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, that killed more than 70 people watching a World Cup final soccer match at a restaurant popular among foreigners. Ugandan troops also are fighting in the African force in Somalia.
“The group has staged ongoing major attacks within Somalia for years. … Al-Shabab and al-Qaida in February 2012 announced their alliance, with al-Shabab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubair pledging allegiance to the global terror movement.”
NPR’s Gregory Warner, who is in Nairobi, said earlier Monday on Morning Edition that eyewitness accounts and closed-circuit footage indicate that 10-15 attackers entered the mall and started by firing indiscriminately on people in cafes and restaurants on Saturday. Later, the attackers were “clearly very selective,” he added. They separated people by age, gender and whether they “could speak a Muslim prayer.” Witnesses say some people who could convince the attackers that they were Muslims were allowed to go.
Among the news outlets live blogging the news:
— The Guardian
Also, NTV Kenya is streaming its coverage here.
We’ll post updates as more information comes in.
Update at 9 a.m. ET. “Get Me Out,” Woman Thought As She Fled:
After hiding with more than 50 other people in a storage room for about 4 hours, a woman who would only identify herself as Lauren tells Morning Edition that security personnel got to them Saturday and led the group out.
“I was just thinking … I’m happy to be leaving … Get me out,” she said to host David Greene. As they left, Lauren said, the group saw some blood and scattered shoes. While barricaded, they had heard gunshots and explosions.
It wasn’t until a day later, on Sunday, “that the full situation hit me,” Lauren added. The worst part, she said, is “knowing that there’s still people in there.”
We followed the news from Nairobi over the weekend in posts headlined:
— Nairobi Mall Attack: Civilians Remain Hostages; Dozens Dead
— Striking Images, Personal Stories Emerge From Kenyan Mall Attack