An upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya was attacked on Saturday when gunmen threw grenades and opened fire on patrons. At least 25 have been killed and 50 wounded, but those numbers are expected to grow.
The Westgate Mall is located in the affluent Westlands neighborhood and frequently visited by the wealthy and foreign workers, especially on the weekends. It houses many popular stores like Nike and Adidas. Many security agencies listed it as a popular target for terrorists. It is important to note the mall is under Israeli ownership because witnesses told police the gunmen said non-Muslims were their targets.
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.
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.
Red Cross official Abbas Gullet said the death toll will likely rise. The local hospital is overwhelmed and more victims were brought to a nearby hospital. Mall guards used shopping carts to bring out wounded children.
Sudjar Singh, a worker at the mall, said: “The gunmen tried to fire at my head but missed. At least 50 people were shot. There are definitely many casualties.
“I saw a young boy carried out on a shopping cart, it looked like he was about five or six. It looked like he was gone, he was not moving or making any noise.”
At 11:50AM ET, NPR reporter Gregory Warner said hundreds were still trapped inside and he could hear shooting nearby.
The police are treating the incident as a terrorist attack and believe no more than 10 attackers were involved. No group has taken responsibility for the attack, but off duty Sgt. Major Frank Mugungu saw five attackers, one of whom was female, and knew that one of them was Somali. In 2011, Somali rebel group al-Shabab threatened an attack on Nairobi after Kenya sent troops to fight them off.
Nairobi is no stranger to terrorist attacks. In 1998, suicide bombers affiliated with al-Qaeda attacked the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and killed 212 people. Attacks increased in 2011 when Kenya intervened in Somalia. Attacks on churches, malls, and other busy places are often targeted.
The al Qaeda-linked Somali jihadist group al-Shabab have claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. Deputy State Department Spokeperson Marie Harf also confirmed that there were Americans among those injured in the attacks.
The death toll now stands at 30 killed and there are reportedly as many as 100 wounded.
CNN now reports that there are 31 confirmed fatalities and that police have cornered the gunmen in the mall. The BBC reported eyewitness accounts in which one man was spared by the gunmen after “showing his ID with a Muslim-sounding name,” while another was murdered after being unable to answer when “asked for the name of the Prophet’s [Muhammad] mother.”
Reuters reports that Kenya’s president says there are 39 dead and more than 150 injured as a result of Saturday’s attack.
CBC News reports that two Canadians are among the dead, including “Annemarie Desloges, a public official in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration who served in Canada’s High Commission to Kenya.”