Soldiers storm mall as terrorists begin 'blowing themselves up'
Published 24/09/2013 | 05:00
Four deafening explosions at lunchtime marked what many were hoping was the beginning of the end of Kenya's worst terror attack since the 1990s.
Hurried ranks of commandos could be seen charging into the upmarket shopping mall that has been the scene of a murderous stand-off with Kenyan authorities since it was stormed by Islamic militants on Saturday afternoon.
As troops moved into the four-storey building and helicopters circled overhead, a column of black smoke began to rise from the rooftop.
Inside the mall fighters loyal to the Somali Islamist militia al-Shabaab had barricaded themselves in. They were holding an estimated 30 hostages and had lit fires to confuse the troops.
One member of the Kenyan force said that at least two of the terrorists died in the ground-floor supermarket. "They just blew themselves up," he said.
The day had begun with exchanges of fire and an abortive attempt by Kenyan forces, assisted by Israeli units, to seize back control of the battered shopping centre.
The lunchtime blasts swelled the crowds of onlookers. By mid-afternoon there was the bizarre spectacle of Kenyan police launching tear gas at onlookers and firing warning rounds into the air while at the same time only 100 metres away soldiers were exchanging fire with the militants in the mall.
The frayed tempers were evidence of a bloody stand-off that has lasted longer than anyone had predicted. The death toll from the attack which had climbed to 69 was revised back down to 62 late yesterday, but the Kenyan Red Cross said that 63 people were missing.
However, the number of UK citizens confirmed killed has continued to climb. Six British are now known to have died.
There were also reports that a "white woman" was among the attackers killed yesterday but there was no confirmation. Several survivors of Saturday's killing spree recalled seeing a "European-looking woman" among the heavily armed militants who were separating Muslims from non-Muslims and killing scores.
This has fuelled speculation that Irishwoman Samantha Lewthwaite, dubbed the 'White Widow', and previously married to one of the London 7/7 bombers, was among the attackers. A stream of confident predictions have flowed from Kenyan authorities but few have been borne out by events.
Last night the inspector general of the Kenyan police, David Kimaiyo, said two of the militants had been killed.
Kenya's Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said the evacuation of hostages "has gone very, very well" and that officials are "very certain" that there are few if any hostages left inside.
Security sources suggested that this confidence was premature. So far the militants have proven better prepared and have succeeded in repelling a number of attacks.
Their durability has led security services to investigate the possibility that they may have had support from inside the mall – possible a cache of arms or explosives.
Adding to the sense that the attackers had received outside assistance, Kenya's interior ministry reported that it had arrested "individuals" at the airport.
There was no official confirmation of the fate of the hostages with Kenyan police revising downward their estimate of the number being held from 30 to 10.
Meanwhile, there was the suggestion that the attackers were taking orders from Somalia.
A spokesman from al-Shabaab in Somalia, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, restated the group's claim to the attack on a website that the militants had been ordered to "take punitive action against the hostages" if security forces tried to storm their way in. (© Independent News Service)