NAIROBI—The front page of The Standard, a Nairobi newspaper, today read “The Final Assault.” For Kenyans that assault, bringing an end to ordeal at the Westgate mall that began on Saturday (Sept. 21), cannot come too soon. But it seems to be more of a slow, methodical process than a flash-bang operation.
A spokesman for the Kenyan Defense Forces claims they have “full control” of the mall. However, prolonged gunfire and explosions can be heard outside the building where they are still battling “one or two” militants, according to security forces involved in the operation. Heavily armed troops with dogs continue to shuffle in and out of the embattled building as smoke continues to billow and helicopters circle overhead.
Reports are slowly starting to leak out that the attackers, members of the Islamic militant group al-Shabaab, include American and British citizens. According to the Kenyan foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, “From the information that we have, two or three Americans (were involved) and I think, so far, I have heard of one Brit… a woman… and I think she has done this many times before.” The description of the British woman is causing some speculation—though no official confirmation—that she may be Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of Germaine Lindsay, a British suicide bomber who killed 26 other people in an attack on the London Underground in 2005.
While the battle between the Kenyan forces and al-Shabaab rages inside the mall, it has also flared up on Twitter, with each side offering conflicting reports on the situation.
The highly coordinated terrorist attack began on Saturday afternoon, when a team of 10-20, some wearing balaclavas and scarves, some in plain clothes, all heavily armed, took the building by force from two separate entrances simultaneously. The gunmen approached the building lobbing explosives on to crowded restaurant patios and opening fire indiscriminately.
At this point there are over 70 confirmed victims, including three members of the Kenya Defense Forces, and over 200 injured. Those numbers may yet grow further as the final assault concludes.