/ 23 September 2013

Kenya’s troops fighting ‘one or two’ gunmen in Westgate mall

Westgate mall siege.
Westgate mall siege.

Security sources involved in the operation told an Agence France-Presse correspondent at the scene on Tuesday that the militants were located and isolated on one of the upper floors of the complex. Sporadic gunfire and the sound of blast could be heard coming from inside the mall, witnesses said.

Five South Africans held hostage in the mall are safe, South Africa's department of international relations has confirmed.

Departmental spokesperson Clayson Monyela said the five worked and lived in Kenya. As a result, the department had received no requests to facilitate their return to South Africa.

One South African, James Thomas (57), who was in the country on business, died when al-Shabab militants were reported to have opened fire on shoppers inside the mall.

Meanwhile, as gunshots continued to ring out in the capital on Monday night, South Africa and the international community rallied behind Kenya.

South Africa said it supported Kenya's presence in Somalia; one of al-Shabab's demands when taking hostages was for Kenya's military to retreat from the country.

President Jacob Zuma said South Africa supported Kenya and the international community's peace-keeping efforts in Somalia.

"Terrorism in any form and from whichever quarter, cannot be condoned and South Africa stands firmly with the international community in condemning all terrorism, and this act in particular. We wish the Kenyan government every success in rapidly resolving this issue with as little further loss of life as possible", said Zuma.

Consular assistance
Monyela said the South African High Commission in Nairobi was closely monitoring the situation in close liaison with the Kenyan authorities. He said consular assistance was being provided to the next of kin of the deceased South African who died, James Thomas.

Chairperson of African Union Commission and former South African minister, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said on Sunday the AU was committed to counter terrorism efforts on the continent.

"The Chairperson of the commission states that this cowardly attack, for which the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group has claimed responsibility, once again underlines the imperative for renewed and reinvigorated efforts to combat terrorism throughout the continent. She reiterates the AU's commitment to continue working with its member states and partners to this end,” said an AU statement. http://cpauc.au.int/en/content/african-union-strongly-condemns-dastardly-terrorist-attacks-against-innocent-civilians-nairobi

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on Monday warned against an "emotional retaliation” to the attacks in Nairobi, as this would play into al-Shabab's hands. The ISS said its counter-terrorism experts were closely monitoring the events in Nairobi.

ISS senior researcher at the Transnational Threats and International Crime Division, Anneli Botha, said the immediate priority for Kenya's security forces was resolving the standoff without inflicting any further casualties.

Risk of fuelling terrorism
Botha pointed out that Kenya's military intervention in Somalia was prompted by the taking of hostages from Kenya and a number of smaller attacks on Kenyan targets. She said these attacks targeted churches and restaurants in an attempt to provoke retaliation from the Kenyan public, in particular the Christian community.

"This strategy was also followed in Saturday's attack in Nairobi, with attackers making a distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims", she said.

"It is equally important that those who planned the attack are pursued with the aim of ensuring they stand trial in Kenya. Dealing effectively with terrorism in the long term requires evidence and intelligence-based criminal justice responses aimed at arresting and prosecuting the perpetrators."

Experience demonstrated that a purely military response could have unintended consequences, including the risk of fuelling extremism and further acts of terrorism, Botha added.

"Due to the trans-national nature of modern terrorist operations, it will be essential for Kenyan investigators to work closely with other African and international governments, not least because foreign nationals are both victims and alleged perpetrators of the attack.

'Kenyan authorities do however have primary jurisdiction and should lead the investigation with help from international partners', said Botha.

The ANC and Cosatu also condemned the attacks. – Additional reporting by AFP