Thu | Dec 12, 2019

Extremists attack hotel in Nairobi; al-Shabab claims role

Published:Wednesday | January 16, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Civilians who had been hiding in buildings flee under the direction of a member of security forces at a hotel complex in Nairobi, Kenya, yesterday.

NAIROBI (AP):

Extremists launched a deadly attack on a luxury hotel in Kenya's capital yesterday, sending people fleeing in panic as explosions and heavy gunfire reverberated through the complex. A witness said he saw five bodies at the hotel entrance alone.

Al-Shabaab - the Somalia-based Islamic extremist group that carried out the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi that left 67 people dead - claimed responsibility.

"It is terrible. What I have seen is terrible," said a man who ran from the scene, Charles Njenga.

As night fell, gunfire continued more than two hours after the first shots were heard at the complex, which includes the DusitD2 hotel, along with bars, restaurants, banks and offices, and is in a well-to-do neighbourhood with large numbers of American, European and Indian expatriates.

It was not clear how many attackers took part.

"We are aware that armed criminals are holing up in the hotel, and special forces are now currently flushing them out," said Kenya's national police chief, Joseph Bonnet, describing the assault as a suspected terror attack.

Boinnet gave no figures on the dead and wounded.

However, a Kenyan police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media, said that bodies were seen in restaurants downstairs and in offices upstairs, but "there was no time to count the dead".

Also, a witness who gave his name only as Ken said he saw five bodies at the entrance. He said that other people were shouting for help, and "when we rushed back to try to rescue them, gunshots started coming from upstairs, and we had to duck because they were targeting us and we could see two guys shooting".

Kenyan hospitals appealed for blood donations even as the number of wounded remained unclear.

The violence appeared to fit the pattern of attacks al-Shabaab often carries out in Somalia's capital, with an explosion followed by a group of gunmen storming the place. Like the Westgate Mall attack, this one appeared aimed at wealthy Kenyans and foreigners living in the country.

The attack came a day after a magistrate ruled that three men must stand trial on charges they were involved in the Westgate Mall siege. A fourth suspect was freed for lack of evidence.