Beyond the Bubble

By Danny Zhang

On Saturday, Sept. 21, the Islamist terrorist organization Al-Shabaab attacked an upscale shopping mall in the northwestern part of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, killing at least 60 people and wounding more than 175. As the siege continued into its third day on Monday, Kenyan security forces were continuing to search for as many as a dozen attackers hidden inside the mall and to rescue a handful of shoppers taken as hostages.

The attack began around noon on Saturday as two groups of masked gunmen stormed two different entrances to Westgate Mall. Eyewitnesses say the attack began with the gunmen tossing grenades. After the initial blasts of the grenades caused panic in the mall, the terrorists proceeded to shoot shoppers with AK-47s and G-3s while warning Muslims to flee.

Kenyan soldiers sealed off the mall right away and began evacuation operations while the gunmen continued to roam around the mall. Soldiers rescued as many as 1000 shoppers in the hours immediately after the attack. Throughout Saturday evening, security forces rescued small groups of people hidden in various places in the mall. As dawn broke on Sunday, several shoppers escaped to safety on their own.

Security forces began a final assault to clear the mall late Sunday evening, with an aim to bring an end to the crisis overnight. However, as the hours ticked away on Monday, exchanges of gunfire and explosions continued. On Monday afternoon, thick smoke rose out of the mall, reportedly from a fire set by the surviving gunmen. The clearing operation left several Kenyan soldiers injured. Some intelligence sources reported that three of the soldiers had died in the gunfight. At least two of the gunmen inside the mall are also reported to be dead.

Kenyan authorities have increased security measures across the country, especially at ports of entry and exit as some eyewitnesses said that a few of the terrorists may have escaped the mall in the pandemonium ensuing the attacks. The police have arrested at least ten persons of interest for initial questioning.

President Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the nation on Sunday, putting the tragedy in remarkably personal terms. He told the country that his nephew and his nephew’s fiancée had both perished in the attacks. Kenyatta also called patience and understanding as the siege continued.

In a show of incredible political unity in a country that has been characterized by intense and at times, violent political divides, opposition leader Raila Odinga stood by Kenyatta’s side on Sunday, urging the Kenyan people to “come together … to help each other.”

At press time, the deaths of several foreign nationals had already been confirmed by their respective embassies. Among these are up to six British nationals, two French women, two Canadians, two Indians, and one each from the Netherlands, South Korea, and South Africa. No Americans were reported to be among the dead, though several had been injured. Also among the dead were popular radio host Ruhila Adatia-Sood and renowned Ghanaian poet and professor Kofi Awoonor.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Somalia-based terrorist group is loyal to al-Qaeda and has said that they were avenging for Kenyan-led and African Union-backed peacekeeping operations in Somalia. Al-Shabaab has vowed to bring violence to Kenya as long as the Kenyan military remains in Somalia.

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