Nairobi hotel siege over: Kenyan President

Kenyan security personnel helping people to escape after militants stormed into the hotel on Tuesday.
Kenyan security personnel helping people to escape after militants stormed into the hotel on Tuesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Al-Shaabab gunmen who killed 14 people 'eliminated' after 20-hour siege

NAIROBI • Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said yesterday that gunmen who stormed an upmarket hotel complex, killing 14 people, had been "eliminated" after an almost 20-hour siege in which hundreds of civilians were rescued.

The attack was claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Somali group Al-Shabaab, which has repeatedly targeted Kenya since it sent its army into Somalia in October 2011 to fight the terrorist group.

At least one suicide bomber blew himself up and gunmen engaged security forces in many shoot-outs during the assault on the DusitD2 compound, which includes a 101-room hotel, spa, restaurant and office buildings.

The sight of armed militants and terrified civilians fleeing reminded Kenyans of a 2013 Al-Shabaab attack on the Westgate mall which left 67 dead in a siege that lasted four days and led to sharp criticism of the security response.

In a televised address, Mr Kenyatta said some 700 civilians had been evacuated throughout the attack at DusitD2, with the swift and effective work from security forces drawing widespread praise in local media.

"I can confirm that... the security operation at Dusit complex is over and all the terrorists eliminated," Mr Kenyatta said in a televised address to the nation.

"As of this moment, we have confirmation that 14 innocent lives were lost to the... terrorists, with others injured."

Police sources and a mortuary official had previously reported 15 dead. It was not clear how many attackers there were in total.

CCTV footage broadcast on local media showed four black-clad, heavily armed men entering the complex on Tuesday afternoon. At least one of them blew himself up at the start of the attack.

A police source said two attackers had been shot dead yesterday morning after a prolonged shoot-out. "The two had red bandanas tied around their foreheads and bullets strapped around their chests with several magazines each," the senior police officer said. "Each had an AK47. The guns have been secured."

Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinnet said the attack began at about 3pm on Tuesday with an explosion targeting three cars in the parking lot and a suicide bombing in the foyer of the Dusit hotel.

Among the dead was an American citizen, a State Department official said. A mortuary official said the victims also included 11 Kenyans, a British victim and one with no papers, as well as an unidentified torso of a male adult.

 
 

Explosions and gunfire intensified from dawn until police managed to secure the complex mid-morning.

Distraught family members arrived at a nearby mortuary yesterday, where they said they had not been allowed to view the bodies.

A number of heavily armed foreign forces, who appeared to be from embassies based in Nairobi, were at the scene alongside Kenyan security officers.

One survivor rescued from the building told a local television station that the attackers were "very confident; they were people who knew what they were doing".

"Al-Shabaab has selected a target that is highly symbolic of Kenya's economic success and its latest attack is aimed at undermining foreign investment and the recovery of the country's tourism sector," said Mr Robert Besseling of EXX Intelligence, a risk consultancy on Africa.

An editorial in the Daily Nation newspaper said the attack was a stark reminder that Kenya's security challenges were far from over.

The last major attack in the country took place in 2015, when Al-Shabaab killed 148 people at the university in Garissa, eastern Kenya.

Since then, sporadic attacks have targeted security forces mostly in the remote northeastern parts of the country.

"Just when we thought that things were calm, the gangs unleashed mayhem. For Kenyans the chilling reality is that the attacks are not ceasing," said the editorial.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2019, with the headline 'Nairobi hotel siege over: Kenyan President'. Print Edition | Subscribe