Kenya mall attack death toll may rise in search for bodies
NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyan security forces expect to find the bodies of more gunmen who killed at least 67 civilians and security personnel and seized an unknown number of hostages in an attack on the Westgate Mall, the government said.
Kenyan forensic investigators at the scene of the raid are being assisted by experts from Israel, the U.S., Germany, Canada and Britain in a probe that’s expected to last at least seven days, Interior Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku said Wednesday. The investigation will look into reports that planners rented a shop in the mall before the attack was carried out and that at least one of the assailants may have been female, he said.
“We are convinced that there will be insignificant if any bodies holed up there except for the terrorists,” Ole Lenku told reporters in Nairobi, the capital. Five of as many as 15 gunmen involved in the attack have been confirmed dead, he said.
The death toll from the four-day assault is the worst since al-Qaida bombed the U.S. Embassy in downtown Nairobi in August 1998, killing 213 people. Al-Shabaab, the Somali-based Islamist militia that claimed responsibility for the Sept. 21 raid, had threatened to strike after Kenya deployed troops in Somalia in October 2011 to fight the militants, blaming them for a series of kidnappings and the murder of a British tourist in Kenya. The al-Qaida-affiliated group denied the accusations.
Three floors in the building collapsed during the attack, leaving an unknown number of bodies buried beneath the rubble, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said Tuesday. Kenyan security forces used armored vehicles and weapons including heavy machine guns to end the assault. The Kenya Red Cross said Wednesday that 71 people are missing in the attack as of Tuesday.
Al-Shabaab claimed on its Twitter account Wednesday that Kenyan forces demolished part of the building and were “culpable” for the lives of 137 hostages. Interior Ministry Principal Secretary Mutea Iringo declined to comment when asked about that figure.
There is “increased public anxiety on account of missing persons, the disruption caused by the continued crisis and inadequate information flow,” it said. Ole Lenku didn’t say how many people are still missing.
Kenya’s relative stability in a volatile region has attracted companies including Toyota, IBM, General Electric and Google to set up bases in the East African nation. The United Nations’ African headquarters are also in Nairobi.
East Africa’s largest economy will stick to its plan to seek about $1.5 billion from its debut Eurobond issue by December and the outlook for economic growth is the same as before the attack, which is an “isolated” incident, Treasury Secretary Henry Rotich said Tuesday. The state forecasts 5.6 percent expansion in 2013 from 4.6 percent last year.
The shilling gained for a second day and has now strengthened 0.2 percent since the day before the attack to 87.20 per dollar. The Nairobi Securities Exchange’s FTSE NSE 25 Index has gained 0.4 percent over the same period to its highest level in five weeks.
The attack began around lunchtime on Sept. 21 when as many as 15 gunmen entered the upscale mall in Nairobi, throwing hand grenades, firing automatic weapons and forcing panicked patrons to flee the building or hide inside the more than 80 shops in the complex. The government said more than 1,000 people were rescued.
More gunfire rang out Tuesday night and Wednesday, which the government said was the result of security forces firing to protect themselves as they entered new areas while doing a final sweep of the building, the Associated Press reported.
Investigators are still trying to confirm the nationalities of the attackers, Ole Lenku said. Kenyan Foreign Secretary Amina Mohamed told PBS’s “NewsHour” on Monday that two or three Americans and a female British citizen participated in the attack. A British national has been arrested in Kenya, according to a statement emailed on Wednesday by the U.K. Foreign Office.
African leaders remain committed to continue battling al- Shabaab’s forces in Somalia, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council said in a statement on its website Wednesday.
The continental body will “continue its efforts in Somalia, in order to rid the country and the region of terrorist and criminal groups, and bring about lasting peace, security and stability in Somalia,” it said.
Al-Shabaab has been fighting Somalia’s government since at least 2006. The militant group claimed responsibility in July 2010 for coordinated bomb attacks in neighboring Uganda that killed 76 people watching the soccer World Cup final at two venues. Al-Shabaab said it targeted Uganda because the country had troops serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia.
Kenyatta, in a nationally televised address on Tuesday, thanked foreign leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, for their support during the ordeal and praised Kenyans for providing help to the victims. Citizens from the U.K., India, France, Canada, South Africa, China and Ghana are among the dead.
“Terrorism is a global problem that requires global solutions,” said Kenyatta, who lost his nephew in the attack. “Kenya will stand with our friends in tackling terrorism and I ask our friends to stand with us.”
With assistance from Eric Ombok in Nairobi, Kenya, Thomas Penny in London and William Davison in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
© 2013, Bloomberg News
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