Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Army, police save 600 in tense operation

Elite units of the military were Saturday called in to deal with the hostage crisis at the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi.

Security was tightened around the city after masked gunmen raided the shopping centre in the city’s Westlands area.

Elite teams from the military and the police, as well those from foreign missions in Nairobi, were jointly trying to resolve the crisis that took the city by storm.

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Westgate Mall is one of the most secured shopping centres in the city, with guards screening visitors and their vehicles round the clock.

But the gunmen detonated grenades before making their way into the mall in a killing spree that claimed dozens of lives.

Combined police units led by the anti-terror police and the Recce squad teamed up with the military for the tense rescue operation.

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The Recce team is composed of the finest General Service Unit officers.

The first batch of the Recce squad arrived at 2.17 pm and patrolled the mall before being joined by the second, which stormed the besieged premises.

Police said more than 600 people were evacuated and 150 were injured, some by shrapnel from the blasts.

Inspector-General of Police David Kimaiyo arrived at the scene at 1.50 pm as the police chopper started air surveillance.

Witnesses said that the men who raided the shopping centre at 11 am were armed with AK-47 rifles and hand grenades.

Most victims of the daring attack sustained gunshot and shrapnel wounds.

The attackers shot their way through the main gate and the parking. They then approached the Artcaffé — a popular restaurant usually patronised by diplomats and expatriates — and opened fire on customers indiscriminately.

The gang, which was dressed in black with their faces covered, threw three grenades but one did not explode.

According to a witness, Mr Abdul Jamal, the men appeared to be of Somali origin and declared that they were revenging the Kenyan military campaign in Somalia.

“Kenya went to Somalia and killed women. We have come to revenge,” they declared, the witness said. They were allegedly asking particular questions and those who hesitated responding were shot dead.

They later stormed the second floor where they held dozens of shoppers hostage.

The head of the diplomatic police unit told journalists that a considerable number of diplomatic staff were among those held hostage in the building, including the First Secretary at the Kuwait Embassy.

Images captured by our photographers showed that most of those killed were Kenyans of Asian origin and foreigners — mostly patrons of the coffee shop.

However, some people were shot outside the mall. A woman and her daughter were shot in their Pajero car outside the mall while an old man was also shot in the head in his vehicle.

Nairobi police chief Benson Kibue said the gunmen had been trying to rob a shop within the mall.

“The gunmen tried to fire at my head but missed. There are definitely many casualties,” Mr Sudjar Singh, who works at the shopping centre, said.

Westgate Mall is frequented by wealthy Nairobians and expatriates. Police ordered the media to stop live transmissions from the

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