Yesterday, a group of masked terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda stormed into an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya and opened fire. At this point, 68 people have been killed and at least 175 have been injured—and the terrorists are still inside the Westgate Mall, holding 30 hostages.
The NY Times described the scene:
Parents hurled their bodies over their children, people jumped into ventilation shafts to save themselves, and shoppers huddled behind the plastic mannequins of designer clothing stores as two squads of gunmen believed to be linked to a Somali terrorist group moved through the mall, shooting shoppers in the head. Hours later, the mall’s gleaming floors were smeared with blood as police officers dashed through the corpse-strewn corridors, trying to find the assailants.
Witnesses said the gunmen asked civilians if they were Muslim. Elijah Lamau said, "They came and said: 'If you are Muslim, stand up. We've come to rescue you'." Then, after the Muslims were allowed to leave, a gunman shot two people.
There are a number of Israeli-owned businesses at the mall, including a ground-floor cafe. According to Al Jazeera, "Israeli security advisers were said Sunday to be aiding Kenyan authorities in developing a 'negotiating strategy' to end the siege, according to Israeli sources."
Another mall patron told Reuters, "A Somali guy shot at me. The guy who shot me was carrying a rifle, an AK-47." And a former British soldier said, "I personally touched the eyes of four people and they were dead. One of them was a child. It's carnage up there."
This witness told the AP that the terrorists threw grenades as they stormed through the mall.
Tyler Hicks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the New York Times, happened to be near the mall framing a set a photos when the attacks started, and ran over to shoot the incident. "There were many civilians who had barricaded themselves inside shops, inside the movie theater, inside restaurants, inside a beauty salon," he told the Times in an interview accompanying his photos. "It seemed like everywhere you went, there were more people who just appeared out of the woodwork."
An AP reporter also recounted the story of his two friends, a married couple and their 2-year-old daughter, who were trapped in the mall but became separated in the chaos. After several hours they were able to sprint to safety and were reunited (photo 6).
The father describes how his daughter handled the situation: "She was amazing...I think she could sense something was going on and was getting a bit upset. When we were hiding, she was really scared when we first got there, but she wasn't crying or acting out. She was just kind of snuggling with me."
Al-Shabab, the Somali-based cell of Al Qaeda, took responsibility for the attack, calling the murders "retributive justice" on Twitter before their account was terminated.
The group controls a large swath of Somalia, but has seen its influence diminish in the region due to infighting and American drone strikes.
"In terms of capacity, while the group has grown considerably weaker in terms of being able to wage a conventional war, it is now ever more capable of carrying out asymmetric warfare," an expert told Reuters.
The attacks have prompted many police forces overseas—including the NYPD—to increase security.
[UPDATE // 4:00 PM]The death toll is now at 68, and the Kenya Red Cross, citing a police source, said that 29 people are still reported missing. The hostage standoff continues.