Fox News on September 23, 2013, reported that Kenyan police and security forces continued their attempts early on September 23 to free the last few hostages held in a shopping mall in the capital, Nairobi, by members of an Al Qaeda-linked Somali militant group. Excerpts below:
Witnesses reported about five minutes of sustained, heavy gunfire coming from the Westgate shopping complex shortly before 6:30 a.m. local time, a clear indication that at least one gunman was still free and that the standoff continued.
Meanwhile, the FBI and the U.S intelligence community are “aggressively” investigating whether or not Americans were among members of an Al Qaeda-linked militant group involved in an attack and hostage situation at a mall in Kenya, a federal law enforcement source told Fox News.
“Most” of the hostages who were holed up at mall were freed late Sunday after the country’s military launched a major assault on the building where at least 68 people were killed and 175 injured the day before.
The military assault began shortly before sundown, with one helicopter skimming very close to the roof of the shopping complex as a loud explosion rang out, far larger than any previous grenade blast or gunfire volley.
At around midnight local time, Kenya’s Defence Forces said it had rescued most of the hostages and had taken control of most of the mall, but declined to give further information on those freed. Officials said four Kenyan military personnel were wounded in the operation.
Many of the rescued hostages — mostly adults — were suffering from dehydration, Col. Cyrus Oguna, a military spokesman, told The Associated Press. He refused to say how many hostages were rescued or how many were still being held. He said some of the attackers had “most probably” been killed in the operation.
The source tells Fox News that the U.S. intelligence community believes the attack is a “hot” and “major event,” because it is outside the normal scope of al-Shabaab and the alleged “multi- national character” of the attackers.
New York Rep. Peter King, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week” that al-Shabab is “one of the only Al Qaeda affiliates which actually has actively recruited here in the United States.”
He called the mall attack a “well coordinated, well planned massacre.”
There are between 50 to 200 hostages and most of them were hiding in various places inside the mall, Fox News confirms.
President Kenyatta of Kenya said in an address that the attackers “shall not get away with their despicable and beastly acts.”
“We will punish the masterminds swiftly and indeed very painfully,” he added.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the attack as “an enormous offense against everybody’s sense of right and wrong,” and called the attackers “ruthless and completely reckless terrorists.”
Kenyans and foreigners were among those confirmed dead, including French, Canadians and Chinese. The U.S. State Department said four American citizens were injured and were being given assistance. The age of the victims ranged from 2 to 78, Reuters reports.
Nineteen people, including at least four children, died after being admitted to Nairobi’s MP Shah hospital, said Manoj Shah, the hospital’s chairman.
Combined Kenyan military and police forces had the mall surrounded on September 22.
Kenya has approached Israel for help on the standoff, and Israel sent an advising team.
U.S. law enforcement, military and civilian personnel in Nairobi were providing advance and assistance as requested by Kenya, spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
Kenyatta’s nephew and the nephew’s fiancee are also among the dead.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that his government had sent a rapid deployment team to Kenya to help. Britons had undoubtedly been caught up in the “callous and cowardly and brutal” assault at the Westgate mall, said Hague.