Armed siege at Kenya shopping mall enters second day; 59 dead

ss-130921-kenya-attack-tease.photoblog600By Alastair Jamieson

An armed hostage siege at a crowded shopping mall frequented by Westerners in Nairobi, Kenya, entered its second day Sunday – with officials saying the death toll had reached 59.

American citizens, including a 26-year-old from San Diego and a woman from North Carolina, were among at least 175 wounded in Saturday’s attack. Several foreigners, including a Canadian diplomat and three British citizens, were among the dead.

Sporadic gunfire could be heard from the scene early Sunday.

A nearby hospital has received 128 patients and performed 28 surgeries to remove bullets and shrapnel in the first 24 hours since the attacks began Saturday, according to the Associated Press.

“We have at least two critical patients currently, one with bullets lodged near the spine,” M.P. Shah Hospital Chairman Manoj Shah told the AP. He added that four of the 19 fatalities at this particular hospital were children.

Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku told reporters that the government believed there were 10 to 15 attackers and that security forces were still locked in a standoff.

He said 59 people had died but that efforts were underway to free other hostages, without giving details.

The militant Islamic group al-Shabab, based in neighboring Somalia, claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter, saying it was in retaliation “for the lives of innocent Muslims” killed by Kenyan forces leading an African Union offensive against al-Shabab.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, facing his first major security challenge since his election in March, said members of his family had been killed, according to Reuters.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released a statement Sunday condemning the attackers “in the strongest terms.”

“This premeditated act, targeting defenceless civilians, is totally reprehensible,” he wrote. “The perpetrators must be brought to justice as soon as possible.”

Ki-moon, who stated that he has been in contact with Kenyatta, expressed his solidarity with Kenya and added that he grieves for the families who have lost loved ones.

Manish Turohit, 18, who hid in a parking garage for two hours before leaving in a line of 15 people who exited with their hands in the air to avoid being shot, told al-Jazeera that gunmen carrying AK-47s and wearing vests with hand grenades on them stormed into the mall.

“They just came in and threw a grenade,” he said. “They were shouting and firing.”

A North Carolina woman told NBC affiliate WAVY of Portsmouth, Va., by Skype that she was at the Westgate mall for lunch when the attack began.

“We stood up and started to turn, and we heard machine guns,” said Bendita Malakia, 30, of Elizabeth City, who had moved to Nairobi in July to work at a financial company. “Then, we started to run and there was a second explosion, which knocked us on the ground.”

Malakia said she and a friend took shelter in a store with dozens of other people, and the store manager pulled down gates to block the attackers.

“While we were back there you could hear them methodically going from store to store, talking to people, and asking questions,” Malakia said. “They were shooting, screaming. Then it would stop for a while and they would go to another store.”

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