Kenya attack
The site of the attack in Nairobi. Photo by Reuters
Text size

Somalia's Al-Qaida-linked rebels said there would be no negotiations with the gunmen who killed at least 30 people in a Nairobi shopping mall on Saturday and were now involved in a standoff with Kenyan security forces.

 "The Kenyan govt (government) is pleading with our Mujahideen inside the mall for negotiations. There will be no negotiations whatsoever at iWestgate," the al Shabaab militant group said on its official Twitter handle, referring to the mall where the attack happened.

The attackers remained inside and firing subsided as military surrounded the mall hours after the attack. People continued to trickle out from hiding places within the Westgate mall, which is frequented by expatriates and rich Kenyans in Nairobi's affluent Westlands neighborhood.

The Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera said the Somali Islamist militant group Al-Shabbab had told the channel that it had carried out the attack.

Somali's rebel group al-Shabab vowed in late 2011 to carry out a large-scale attack in Nairobi in retaliation for Kenya's sending of troops into Somalia to fight the Islamic insurgents.

The Westgate mall, with shops like Nike, Adidas and Bose, has Israeli ownership, and security personnel have in the past identified the mall as a likely terror target in the city. Haaretz spoke on the phone with one of the Israeli owners, Alex Trajtenberg, who confirmed he is a partner in the mall but declined to comment further.

Officials in the Israeli foreign ministry said that three Israeli citizens that were in the mall at the time of the attack were able to escape unharmed and were collected by the Deputy Israeli Ambassador to Kenya Yaki Lopez and the embassy security officer that were present on the scene.

Two Israeli men that managed to escape on their own and an Israeli woman that hid in one of the businesses and was rescued by the local security forces. A senior official at the foreign ministry said that the families of the Israelis that escaped the incident were informed. The ministry said that beyond these persons it is believed that no other Israelis were present.

"They asked people 'Are you a Muslim?' and anyone who answered 'no' got a bullet," Moshe Noiman, an Israeli living in Nairobi, who witnessed the terrorist attack described what he had seen to Channel 10 news.

Gilad Milo, an Israeli who witnessed the shooting, told Channel 2 News: "All the Israelis were evacuated from the place as far as we know… It was a very difficult day for us. It is a very difficult day for us. It is a very popular spot in the city. We go to that mall all the time."

Elijah Kamau, who was at the mall at the time of the midday attack, said that the gunmen made a declaration that non-Muslims would be targeted.

"The gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave. They were safe, and non-Muslims would be targeted," he said.

Jay Patel, who sought cover on an upper floor in the mall when shooting began, said that when he looked out of a window onto the upper parking deck of the mall he saw the gunmen with a group of people.

Patel said that as the attackers were talking, some of the people stood up and left and the others were shot.

The gunmen carried AK-47s and wore vests with hand grenades on them, said Manish Turohit, 18, who hid in a parking garage for two hours.

"They just came in and threw a grenade. We were running and they opened fire. They were shouting and firing," he said after being marched out of the mall in line with about 15 people who held their hands in the air.

Rob Vandijk, who works at the Dutch embassy, said he was eating at a restaurant inside the mall when attackers lobbed hand grenades inside the building. He said gunfire then burst out and people screamed as they dropped to the ground.

It appears the attack began at the outdoor seating area of Artcaffe – an Israeli-owned cade at the front of the mall, witnesses said.

Patrick Kuria, an employee at Artcaffe, 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."

Some people were shot at the entrance to the mall after volleys of gunfire moved outside and a standoff with police began. Ambulances continued to stream in and out of the mall area, ferrying the wounded who gradually emerged from hiding inside the mall.

People clutched their small children, and some cried. At one point in the day mall guards used shopping carts to wheel out wounded children.

A local hospital was overwhelmed with the number of wounded being brought in hours after the attack, so they had to divert them to a second facility.

In 2002, eleven Kenyans and three Israelis were killed when suicide bombers rammed a four-wheel-drive vehicle laden with explosives into a Mombasa hotel. Moments before the hotel blast, two missiles fired from rocket launchers narrowly missed hitting an Arkia Airlines jet carrying more than 270 Israeli passengers and crew as it took off from Mombasa