Kenyan president declares victory, says mall siege over
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday spelled out the grim toll of an attack on a Nairobi shopping mall -- 67 dead, including six soldiers -- and declared an end to the hostage siege that terrified and shocked the nation.
But in a somber address to the nation, Kenyatta offered no details on what happened in the final dramatic confrontation between security forces and militants when repeated explosions toppled several floors of the mall and sent a thick plume of smoke into the air Monday.
Kenyatta said several bodies, including those of the hostage-takers, remained buried in the rubble -- implying that civilians, possibly hostages, were also among those buried.
The president didn’t explain what caused the explosions Monday, how many hostages the gunmen had been holding, how many perished and whether any hostages were freed. Five gunmen were killed, he said, and 11 were arrested.
On Monday, authorities told Kenyan media that the explosions were set by security forces blasting their way into the building, not militants. They also had said that an unspecified number of hostages were freed.
Kenyatta declared three days of mourning and devoted a large portion of his speech to praising the Kenyan spirit and national unity after the extraordinary outpouring of support in recent days, with Kenyans lining up to give blood and donating cash to help affected families.
Kenyatta said intelligence reports suggested that three Americans and a British female may have been involved in the attack, but he said it was too early to confirm this. Forensic experts were working to establish the attackers’ identities, he added.
Speculation has mounted that a British woman, Samantha Lewthwaite, might have been involved. Lewthwaite is the widow of Germaine Lindsay, one of the suicide bombers in the 2007 attack on London’s Underground. She narrowly escaped arrest in Kenya last year and was believed to be in Somalia.
“We have shamed and defeated out attackers,” Kenyatta said, vowing justice to those responsible.
“These cowards will meet justice, as will their accomplices,” he added.
Kenyatta’s comments came after the Shabab, a Somali-based militant group with ties to Al Qaeda, challenged the official Kenyan version of events. Shabab has claimed responsibility for the mall attack. In a series of tweets Tuesday, it claimed the casualties were higher than Kenyan authorities were saying.
Late Monday, Kenyan authorities said security forces had full control of the Westgate shopping mall, and security forces were making final sweeps to secure the building. After what appeared a premature declaration of victory Monday night, explosions and shooting in the mall continued for much of Tuesday.
The interior minister said Tuesday that security forces “continue to neutralize terrorist threat, troops now in mop-up operations in the building.”
But a Twitter account purporting to represent the Shabab claimed Tuesday that the operation wasn’t over and that gunmen and hostages were alive.
Kenyan officials dismissed the tweets as enemy propaganda.
“The enemy will continue spewing out propaganda to ensure that we fail as they want us to. Let us ignore such and focus on what is clear,” said a tweet from Kenya’s police.
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