An unknown number of attackers entered an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and opened fire indiscriminately. At least 20 people are dead with another 50 injured, according to the Kenyan Red Cross. Authorities also say that some hostages were taken.
“All of a sudden we heard some shots and people rushing,” said Zulobia Kassam, who was having coffee at the mall. “We realized we were under attack. We rushed to the back, trying to hide and we heard random shots from everywhere — upstairs, downstairs.”
She said they stayed in hiding for about 40 minutes before sneaking out through a back door.
“People were petrified, crying, praying,” she said. “We were told there were hostages being held.”
It was unclear how many hostages the attackers took, but police are trying to negotiate for their release and retake the building, according to the source.
Attackers appear to be of Somali origin, a Kenyan government source and Western diplomatic sources told CNN.
If they are of Somali origin, they could be part of the terrorist group al-Shabaab, which has been attacking churches and government buildings in Kenya for several years. Al-Shabaab has threatened to attack the mall in the past.
The military asked local media not to televise anything live because the gunmen are watching the screens in the mall.
Crowds fled down the streets as soldiers in military fatigues crawled under cars to get closer to the mall, guns cocked.
Surveillance helicopters flew overhead.
“We urge Kenyans to keep off Westgate mall, adjacent roads and its environs until further notice,” the Interior Ministry said on its Twitter page.
It declined to release further information, saying it will issue a statement later.
“We’re doing our job to ensure that everyone is evacuated to safety,” the ministry said. “This is a scene of crime, let police do their job.”
CNN affiliate NTV reported multiple shooters were at the scene and terrified shoppers were hiding inside the mall, which is popular among expatriates and the wealthy.
The obvious question is, could it happen in America? The fact that our malls have not been targeted — even by “lone wolf” terrorists — says more about us being lucky than anything else. Imagine a similar attack to the one in Kenya on “Black Friday” or any holiday in America. In addition to casualties of the attack, people would probably be trampled to death in trying to get away.
Security at malls and other soft targets could be much better. Perhaps this horrible incident in Nairobi will spark a renewed emphasis on security so that mall owners and communities will be better prepared to deal with a terrorist attack like this one.
The al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group is claiming responsibility for the deadly attack on a mall in Kenya.
A statement from al-Shabab on its official Twitter feed Saturday says the attacks are retribution for military action by Kenya inside Somalia. The group said it was now shifting the battlefield to Kenya.
The group said its fighters entered Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall at around noon and were still inside more than nine hours later. Kenyan military special forces had entered the mall in an effort to end the standoff.
The Daily Mail is reporting that the gunmen told Muslims in the mall to stand up and leave. “We only want to kill non-Muslims,” was supposedly said by at least one gunman.
Some of those who escaped were ‘challenged to recite a Muslim prayer and were then let out’, according to Allan Sayers, who contacted MailOnline and said he was in the Westgate mall five minutes before the attack.