KENYAN MAN HELD OVER MALL ATTACK
A 33-year-old recent Muslim convert from Meru is being held following the Westgate mall attack. Identified as Ali Hassan Gitonga from Gikurumene village in Meru, police say Gitonga is part of sleeper terrorist cell based in Eastleigh’s Majengo area. He is alleged to have travelled to Somalia for training with Al Shabaab sometime in 2011 and returned home late last year after the Kenya Defence Forces moved in to kick out the the militia group.
He has been living in Eastleigh Section Three since then and was a frequent visitor to the Riyadha Mosque. Yesterday, Deputy Inspector General of Police Grace Kaindi confirmed that police had arrested Gitonga and are questioning him over the attack. Gitonga is admitted at a city hospital where he is receiving treatment after being shot in the right thigh and left ankle during Saturday’s exchange of fire with the police who were rescuing those still being held hostage in the mall. Police recovered a national identity card.
Television footage streamed most of Saturday showed the man being half carried from the mall with his head covered with a jacket. He is currently under tight security at the hospital. He has however refused to answer questions by the police and has also declined to record a statement.
The security agencies were yesterday reconstructing the attack. They have since Saturday afternoon been scrutinizing the CCTV footage which shows the attackers as they entered the mall and the panic that ensued. The CCTV was abruptly disconnected by the attackers many of whom are still holed up in the mall. Preliminary reports indicate that the attack was well planned and synchronized.
The attackers, estimated to be between 10 and 15 people accessed the mall from three places — the basement, the main entrance and from the roof. The attackers sprayed automatic gunfire to kill the security personnel manning the entrances. They drove into the mall using a white Toyota registration number KBS 629Q and a metallic silver Mitsubishi Lancer registration number KAS 575X which were still at the mall where they had been abandoned.
By yesterday afternoon, the death toll stood at 59 and 175 injured. Some of those hurt were security personnel who got injured through ‘friendly fire’. The number of attackers who are still holed up in the mall is unclear even though suspicion is growing that some them may have sneaked under the pretext they were hostages.
Yesterday, the Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku said the operation was “delicate” and had taken time as there were still hostages being held inside the mall. The first and second floors of the mall had been secured and sanitised by last evening as well as a section of the basement. However, there were fears that the attackers may have bobby-trapped a section of the basement which required a careful response.
Kenyans overwhelmingly responded to appeals for blood with hundreds queuing at various hospitals and emergency blood donor centres in Nairobi and Mombasa and other towns. An appeal for Westgate Mall victims launched by Safaricom on its pay bill number 848484 realized Sh6 million within six hours and more was expected. Political differences were set aside when President Uhuru flanked by former Prime Minister and leader of the opposition Cord Alliance Raila Odinga and UDF’s Musalia Mudavadi appeared together at State House to condemn the attack.
“They shall not get away with their despicable, beastly acts. Like the cowardly perpetrators now cornered in the building, we will punish the masterminds swiftly and painfully,” said President Uhuru in his address to the nation. Raila warned Kenyans against being divided along religious lines as a result of the attack and urged them to remain steadfast.
The Israeli government despatched an elite Israeli unit to help the Kenyan police in bring the siege at Westgate Mall to an end. “The Israelis have just entered the shopping centre and they are rescuing the hostages and the injured,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Reuters confirmed the Israeli involvement, quoting security source saying Israeli advisers are helping with ‘negotiating strategy’ to end siege. Unconfirmed reports indicate that a unit of the US Special Forces were also despatched to assist the Kenya security agencies. Messages of condolence and solidarity continued to be received from different all over the world as well as the United Nations and various UN agencies.
These countries and agencies offered the government assistance to deal with the crisis. At the ICC, Deputy President William Ruto’s lawyer Karim Khan asked the court to allow Ruto to return home to assist Uhuru in handling the crisis. The court was expected to make its decision on the basis of the written submissions yesterday or after oral arguments this morning before the start of the trial proceedings.