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Kenyan Government Claims It Has ‘Control’ in Deadly Standoff With al-Shabab

September 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Three days after al-Shabab militants stormed a Nairobi shopping mall, officials say 62 people have died and more than 170 have been injured. Kenyan troops believe all hostages have now been released, but the outcome of the battle is still in doubt. Gwen Ifill reports.
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GWEN IFILL: Our lead story tonight, the outcome of the battle at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, remains in doubt, even as the government claims its troops are in control.

At least 62 people have died, with more than 170 hurt, but Kenyan officials now say they believe all hostages have been released.

(GUNFIRE)

GWEN IFILL: The crack of gunfire was still echoing all day outside of the Westgate Shopping Mall two days after militants stormed the building. This morning, four large explosions shook the complex and thick black smoke poured out for well over an hour. Government officials reported Kenyan security forces had retaken most of the complex.

JOSEPH OLE LENKU, Kenyan Interior Minister: Our gallant forces are in control. Our resolve to defend our country has never been higher. And we want to say that we will take the war to the criminals’ doorsteps.

GWEN IFILL: The interior minister also said troops killed at least two of the attackers during the day’s fighting and arrested more than 10 others. But, still, the fighting continued.

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JOSEPH OLE LENKU: The terrorists will be running and hiding in some store somewhere or something, but all floors now are under our control. I also confirm that we have fully cordoned the building, so that there are no room for escapees.

GWEN IFILL: The government’s pronouncements were met with mounting frustration in Nairobi.

MAN: They are taking them — too much time. They were supposed to handle this thing in maybe like — in six hours and then they are supposed to finish everything. That’s — it’s like today — is Saturday. Nothing else — so, I don’t think the situation is not — they are not working on it.

GWEN IFILL: The battle began on Saturday with a burst of chaos and terror. Witnesses said 10 to 15 armed militants, apparently male, though some were dressed in women’s clothing, stormed the mall and opened fire on shoppers, taking some of them hostage.

Some were able to escape as armed forces rushed to answer the alarm. Children and others were escorted to safety by security personnel. The Somali group Al-Shabab, with ties to al-Qaida, said it was retaliating for Kenya’s offensive in Somalia in 2011. That helped drive Al-Shabab out of the area it once controlled. The group released an audio statement on the Web today.

ALI MAHAMOUD RAGE, Al-Shabab Spokesman (through interpreter): This afternoon, we heard from the president of Kenya, who said he will seek revenge on Al-Shabab wherever they are. But you have to know that your forces are still very few places in Somalia, where they meet regular attacks from us. Now we are fighting inside Nairobi.

GWEN IFILL: The militants’ target, the Westgate luxury shopping mall, is popular with well-off Kenyans and foreigners, and the confirmed dead included British, French and Canadians.

In addition, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s own nephew and his nephew’s fiancee were killed, along with Kofi Awoonor, a Ghanaian poet and former ambassador to the United Nations. The Kenyan chief of defense and other officials said the attackers also came from all over the world, including the United States.

JULIUS KARANGI, Kenyan Chief of Central Staff: We have an idea who these people are, and they are clearly a multinational collection from all over. We have an idea. And we also have an idea that this is not clearly a local event. We have fighting global terrorism here.

GWEN IFILL: After making a condolence call to President Kenyatta before leaving the White House this morning, President Obama met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at the United Nations and pledged U.S. support.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This I think underscores the degree to which all of us as an international community have to stand against the kind of senseless violence that these kind of groups represent.

GWEN IFILL: Back in Kenya, family members of the victims mourned their losses. And, as night fell, the site remained a crime scene.