Ferocity of gang was quickly apparent
Published 23/09/2013 | 05:00
Midway through yesterday morning, a detachment of Kenyan special forces troops sprinted up the dozen steps to the front of Nairobi's upmarket Westgate shopping mall, by then firmly under the control of a gang of Islamist gunmen.
They had planned to storm the building, but the glass doors were blocked. Only when the troops forced their way through did they realise that dead bodies, as many as 20, had been piled against the entryway to slow the soldiers' access.
Stumbling inside, they immediately came under sniper fire. Two died. The rest pulled back. This was the moment that the professionalism and ferocity of those holding the shopping mall hostages began to become clear.
By last night, the gang – a unit of up to 15 Islamists, including both men and women, and sent by al-Shabaab, Somalia's al-Qa'ida proxy – had held off armed forces for more than 30 hours.
They were said to be in control of dozens of hostages. The Kenyan president refused to deny the suggestion that some of the captives even had explosives strapped to them.
The sound of a large explosion and brief volleys of gunfire interrupted hours of stalemate. Witnesses at the scene saw security personnel on the move.
Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya's president, said the chances of the siege ending well were "as good . . . as we can hope for".
The reason the Islamist gang targeted the Westgate shopping centre was clear from the moment they stormed inside. Anyone who was not a Muslim, or could not prove that they were, was immediately targeted.
Many people came forward. They were ordered to speak in Arabic, or to recite a verse from the Koran, or to name the Prophet Mohammed's mother. Those who passed this test were allowed to flee. Those that did not were executed, including children. (© Daily Telegraph, London)