Kenyan president declares victory in mall siege
NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenyan authorities prepared for the gruesome task of recovering dozens more victims than initially feared after the country’s president declared an end Tuesday to the four-day siege of a Nairobi mall by al-Qaida-linked terrorists. Officials said the death count could jump by another 60 or more.
“We have ashamed and defeated our attackers,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a televised address to the nation that was delayed for hours as gunbattles persisted at the upscale Westgate mall. “Kenya has stared down evil and triumphed.”
Despite Kenyatta’s declaration, troops remained deployed at the vast complex, and security officials told The Associated Press attackers with weapons or booby traps might still be inside. A plan to remove bodies was aborted because of continued skirmishes inside the mall, where three floors had collapsed.
Describing the victims as “innocent, harmless civilians” of “various nationalities, races, ethnic, cultural, religious and other walks of life,” a solemn-looking Kenyatta reported the known death toll: at least 61 civilians, along with six security forces and five al-Shabab militants.
About 175 people were injured, including 62 who remain hospitalized, he said, acknowledging that “several” bodies remained trapped in the rubble, including those of terrorists.
However, another government official said a far higher toll was feared and morgue workers were preparing to receive up to 60 more bodies. A Western embassy official said the number of additional dead could go as high as 100. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss information not publicly disclosed.
“They’re just seeing dead bodies. They’ve found no survivors, no live hostages,” said a Nairobi resident whose brother was taking part in the military sweep inside the mall. He spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because his brother was not authorized to publicly release the information.
Kenyatta said 11 suspects had been arrested; authorities previously announced that seven had been taken into custody at the airport and three elsewhere.
“These cowards will meet justice as will their accomplices and patrons, wherever they are,” an emotional Kenyatta declared.
“We confronted this evil without flinching, contained our deep grief and pain, and conquered it,” he said. “As a nation, our head is bloodied, but unbowed.”
Kenyatta declared three days of national mourning starting Wednesday.
Kenyatta said forensic experts would examine the corpses of the assailants to determine their identities, softening earlier assertions by Kenya’s foreign minister that Americans and a Briton were involved in the siege.