Explosions, Gunfire at Kenyan Mall as Attack Enters Third Day

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 23 2013 11:22 AM

Explosions, Gunfire at Kenyan Mall as Attack Enters Third Day

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Smoke rises from the Westgate mall in Nairobi on September 23, 2013

Photo by Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Loud blasts and occasional bursts of gunfire could be heard on Monday coming from the upscale mall in Nairobi that is the site of what has become the deadliest terrorist attack on Kenyan soil since 1998. Here's the Associated Press with the latest from the standoff, now in its third day, between Kenyan troops and the al-Qaida-linked terrorists who remain holed up in the building with an unknown number of hostages:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Dark plumes of smoke rose from the mall for more than an hour after four large explosions rocked the upscale Westlands neighborhood. A person with knowledge of the rescue operation told The Associated Press that the smoke was rising up and out of a large skylight inside the mall's main department and grocery store, Nakumatt, where goods like mattresses may have been lit on fire. ...
[Kenya Chief of Defense forces Gen. Julius] Karangi said Kenyan forces were in charge of all floors inside the mall, though terrorists could still be hiding inside. Earlier witness reports had indicated that a woman was among the estimated 10 to 15 attackers. Lenku said that instead some male attackers had dressed up like women.
The four explosions were followed by volleys of gunfire, then a thick, dark column of smoke that burned for roughly 90 minutes. Military and police helicopters and one plane circled over the Nairobi mall, giving the upscale neighborhood the feel of a war zone.
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Kenyan military officials claimed earlier today that "almost all of the hostages have been evacuated"—despite never saying exactly how many there were in the first place—and announced that at least two of the militants from Somalia’s al-Shabab militia had been killed in the standoff. Government forces launched their counterattack yesterday against the attackers who have been holed up in the mall since Saturday. The troops appeared to have retaken most of the building by Monday morning, but the New York Times reports that as the day continued it became apparent that government soldiers "have found it more difficult to dislodge the attackers than expected."

Meanwhile, there remains some uncertainty over the number of people killed during the past three days. Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku revised the death toll to 62 today. Kenyan officials had previously pegged the number at 59, while the Red Cross had originally put the number at 68 before lowering it to 62. Roughly 175 are believed to have been injured, and 63 people remain missing, according to the Kenyan Red Cross.

Gen. Julius Karangi, the chief of the Kenyan Defense Forces, said that the jihadists behind the attack are "clearly a multinational collection from all over the world"—although he stopped short of providing more detail or confirming reports about the exact nationalities of the attackers inside the building. "This is not clearly a local event," said Karangi. "We are fighting global terrorism here."

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