An upscale mall popular with the Kenyan elite and the foreign diplomats and business people who call Nairobi home turned into a war zone Saturday, as gunmen opened fire on shoppers in an apparent terrorist attack, killing at least 30 and wounding dozens more.
At nightfall, the mall remained sealed off to the public as police officers and soldiers searched floor by floor for the gunmen, who were still believed to be inside with hostages.
Witnesses described hearing explosions and gunfire as they fled, leaving behind blood, broken glass and carnage in what was apparently one of the worst terrorist attacks in the country’s history.
Joseph Momanyi, 26, an employee at the Nakumatt grocery store there, said as he was running away he heard the attackers shouting that “All Muslims leave... we only want to kill non-Muslims”.
Hours after the attack began, the Shabab, the ferocious Somali militant group been linked to past attacks in Kenya, suggested in a series of Twitter posts that its fighters were responsible for the massacre.
“The attack at Westgate Mall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders,” one post said.
Gen. Abbas Guled, secretary general of Kenyan Red Cross, Saturday said 30 people had been killed and more than 60 wounded. The police had not yet confirmed any fatalities. Local media reported that one wounded suspect had been detained at a hospital on Saturday evening.
The State Department said it had reports that several Americans were among the wounded, although it declined to elaborate, citing privacy reasons. “We condemn this senseless act of violence that has resulted in death and injury for many innocent men, women, and children,” said a department spokeswoman, Marie Harf.
Witnesses described attackers using AK-47 rifles and throwing grenades.
Military helicopters hovered overhead as the police kept bystanders away from the scene. The police said they had surrounded the mall, and officers were seen clearing the shops one by one.
Agence France-Presse reported that the gunmen had taken at least seven hostages, citing police officers and security guards at the scene. The Red Cross reported around 5 pm