President Uhuru Kenyatta announced today that security forces have ended the four-day siege at the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi after troops entered the building and killed or captured the members of the Shabaab assault team.
Kenyatta addressed the Kenyan people on national TV to declare an end to the siege that has gripped the capital for more than four days. Sixty-two civilians and six Kenyan soldiers were killed and more than 250 were wounded during the attack, Kenyatta said, according to the Daily Nation. Security forces killed five Shabaab fighters and captured 11 others.
“We have ashamed and defeated our attackers,” Kenyatta said. “We have been badly hurt, but we have been brave, united and strong. Kenya has stared down evil and triumphed. We have defeated our enemies and showed the whole world what we can accomplish.”
The death toll may rise as several floors in the multistory mall collapsed during the fighting.
“Towards the tail end of the operation, three floors of the Westgate mall collapsed and there are several bodies trapped in the rubble including the terrorists,” Kenyatta continued.
Rumors have swirled that Americans, Europeans, and Arabs were among the attackers, but the identities and nationalities of the attackers have not been disclosed.
“Forensic experts are working to ascertain nationalities of the terrorists,” Kenyatta said.
Shabaab denied reports from an unofficial Twitter account that claimed to represent the group’s media office and gave out the names of members of the assault team.
Shabaab also denied that females were members of the assault team.
“HSM [Shabaab] hereby categorically denies the involvement of any woman in Operation,” the group said. “We have an adequate number of young men who are fully committed & we do not employ our sisters in such military operations.”
There has been speculation that Samantha Lewthwaite, a wanted jihadist whose husband was a suicide bomber in Britain, was involved in the Westgate assault.
Kenyatta’s speech took place just minutes after Shabaab’s official Twitter account claimed that its fighters were still battling security forces and that it had a “big surprise” for the Kenyan people.
Shabaab’s assault began Saturday, Sept. 21, when several heavily armed small teams entered the mall from different entrances and attempted to separate Muslims from non-Muslims. Shabaab fighters gunned down the non-Muslims, took hostages, and repelled Kenyan attempts to retake the mall until earlier today. Kenyan officials had previously claimed on Monday night that the mall was cleared of Shabaab fighters.
The Westgate attack is the worst terrorist act by al Qaeda and its allies in Kenya since the 1998 bombing at the US Embassy in the Kenyan capital that killed 212 people, including 12 Americans. Al Qaeda executed the 1998 bombing; some of al Qaeda’s top leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Saif al Adel, were indicted for their roles in ordering and executing the suicide attack.
Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in East Africa, and the Muslim Youth Center, which is a branch of Shabaab, have conducted a string of smaller attacks and plots in northern Kenya and the capital since 2011. The incidents primarily consist shootings, attacks on police and military outposts, and IED and grenade attacks.
Shabaab also demanded that Kenyan forces withdraw from southern Somalia and said it was striving to impose a global Caliphate under sharia, or Islamic law. In a statement released on Twitter today from Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage (Ali Dhere), its official spokesman, the East African terror group laid out the group’s demands. The statement was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Rage said that if the “Kenyan government and those in its orbit … want peacefulness and safety, they should leave our country, and stop their intervention in our affairs, and release our captives, and abandon all forms of fighting against our religion.”
“If you refuse, you saw what happened, and this is just the beginning and some of the punishment. So, wait for dark days, for you will need to wail O enemies of the religion and humanity,” Rage said.