At least six people were killed when an Islamist suicide bomber and gunmen stormed an upmarket hotel and office complex in Nairobi, with police still trying to rescue people trapped inside the compound Wednesday after a siege of over 12 hours.
Gunshots rang out sporadically in the capital as police tried to rescue survivors and flush out the attackers, however it was unclear how many were still hiding inside the complex.
After 12 hours trapped inside the complex, a group of dozens of people was freed at 3.30am, according to an AFP journalist on the scene, followed by fresh gunfire and a detonation.
The attack at the DusitD2 compound, which includes a 101-room hotel, spa, restaurant, and offices for local and international companies, began at 3pm on Tuesday with a massive explosion, heard five kilometres away at the AFP bureau.
Al-Shabaab, which carried out a notorious assault on a Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, claimed responsibility, according to the SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activities.
Elite police forces evacuated terrified workers barricaded in offices after an hour of sustained gunfire as they engaged the attackers. Sporadic shots were still heard hours after the blast.
“We are aware that there are armed criminals still holed up and our officers are trying to flush them out,” said Inspector General of police Joseph Boinnet.
“We regret to inform you that there have been injuries in the attack and we are in the process of confirming the numbers.”
Simon Crump, who works in the complex, said terrified workers barricaded themselves inside their offices after “several” explosions.
“We have no idea what is happening. Gunshots are coming from multiple directions,” he told AFP.
He later said that police had evacuated workers from the building, and it was not clear how many were still trapped.
“A lot of people ran when the first few explosions happened, there was a mad rush for the exit,” he said.
— Ian Wafula (@Ian_Wafula) January 15, 2019
— Ian Wafula (@Ian_Wafula) January 15, 2019
A flash and a bang’
John Maingi said there had been “a flash of lights and a loud bang” at the Secret Garden restaurant where he works.
“When I peeped outside I saw a human leg which has been cut off. We hid in the room and then some police officers rescued us,” he said.
Shortly after the attack began flames and plumes of black smoke billowed into the sky from the parking lot where several cars where ablaze.
Police sirens echoed through the city and two helicopter buzzed overhead while ambulances with flashing lights lined up outside the hotel.
A private security guard at the scene told AFP he had seen four “gangsters” entering the compound.
“All police teams have been dispatched to the scene where the incident is. As at now we are treating it as anything, including the highest attack,” police spokesman Charles Owino said by phone.
“All police teams including anti-terror officers are at the scene,” he said.
An AFP reporter saw a bomb disposal squad blow up a car which they said had been used by the attackers to arrive at the complex.
Meanwhile, the vast upscale Village Market shopping centre in northern Nairobi said on Twitter that it had closed temporarily as a “security precaution.”
— Africa Uncensored (@AfUncensored) January 15, 2019
— The African Voice (@teddyeugene) January 15, 2019
The attack at DusitD2 is the first in Nairobi in five years, when gunmen stormed the city’s Westgate shopping mall, killing at least 67 people. The attack and ensuing siege lasted around four days.
That assault was also claimed by Somalia’s Al Shabaab, which have been fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu since 2007.
The Westgate attack resulted in many upscale establishments and shopping centres in the capital — including the Dusit — putting up strict security barriers checking vehicles and pedestrians.
Al Shabaab targeted Kenya after it sent its army into Somalia in October 2011 to fight the jihadist group.
On April 2 2015, another Shabaab attack killed 148 people at the university in Garissa, eastern Kenya.
In its statement, the Shabaab noted the attack came exactly three years after its fighters overran a Kenyan military base in Somalia.
“This attack on Nairobi hotel came as Kenyans and their media are commemorating (the) El Adde attack,” it said.
Al Shabaab claimed more than 200 soldiers died in that assault. The government has refused to give its own toll or disclose details of the attack.
© Agence France-Presse