Kenya’s military said most hostages had been rescued on Sunday after security forces launched a major operation to end the siege at Nairobi’s Westgate mall, where al-Qaeda-linked militants killed at least 68 people and injured 175 others.
“Most of the hostages have been rescued and security forces have taken control of most parts of the building,” the Kenya Defence Forces said on Twitter, adding that four soldiers were injured in the operation.
“This will end tonight. Our forces will prevail. Kenyans are standing firm against aggression, and we will win,” the country’s National Disaster Operations Centre said.
Some 10 to 15 attackers from the militant group al-Shabaab were cornered in one part of the four-storey building with the hostages as the rescue operation, described by police as a “major assault,” was getting under way.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said more than 1,000 people had been rescued and that police forces were in control of the CCTV room.
Two Indians were killed in the attack that has claimed citizens of Kenya, Britain, France, South Africa, Canada, Ghana, China and the U.S. The exact circumstances of their deaths are not known, but survivors told news agencies that the militants checked the identity cards of shoppers and let Muslims leave the premises.
Ghanaian poet and academic Kofi Awoonor was also killed.
On the BBC, Daniel Howden, who writes for The Economist from Nairobi, said he interviewed a man who escaped the attackers, but an Indian man was asked for name of the Prophet Mohammad’s mother and shot dead when he was unable to answer. The Indian man could be Sridhar Natarajan (40) an employee at a pharmaceutical firm, whose death was reported by the Ministry of External Affairs on Sunday.
In a press conference on Sunday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta described the attacks as “cowardly” and said security forces were in the process of “neutralising the attackers.” He said the militants were cornered in one part of the building, even as officials maintained that protecting civilians remained a primary priority.
In 2011, Kenya unilaterally sent about 4,000 troops into south Somalia in response to a series of kidnappings and attacks along the border by al-Shabab. Kenyan troops were subsequently incorporated into AMISOM, an African-led contingent of 17,000 soldiers deployed to defeat al-Shabab and shore up the embattled Somali government in Mogadishu.
Saturday’s attack, Al-Shabab has said, was in response to alleged atrocities perpetrated by Kenyan troops on Somali civilians.
In Nairobi, news agencies reported that Kenyan security forces had sought the help of Israeli security forces to storm the mall, which is part Israeli-owned.
On Twitter, Amir Mizroch, an editor of Israel Hayom, one of Israel’s largest selling dailies, said a team of Israeli anti-terrorism advisers, bomb disposal experts and a negotiation expert were advising Kenyan security forces but were not participating in the operation. Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the matter.