Rescuers scour mall for siege victims
25 September 2013, 20:28
Nairobi - Security officers and rescue workers are scoured the
wreckage of Westgate shopping mall on Wednesday for bodies and booby-trapped
explosives after a four-day siege by Islamist gunmen left 67 dead and dozens
Rescuers wore face masks and some soldiers wrapped scarves
around their mouths because of an overpowering stench inside Westgate, once the capital's most upmarket mall. A large part of the complex has
collapsed after heavy explosions and a fierce fire.
Across Kenya, flags flew at half mast at the start of three
days of official mourning.
Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab rebels claimed on Twitter
that 137 hostages they had seized had all died, figures impossible to verify and
higher than the number of people officially registered as missing. They also
accused KDF of using "chemical agents" to end the
President Uhuru Kenyatta announced an end to the 80-hour
bloodbath late on Tuesday, with the "immense" loss of 61 civilians
and six members of the security forces. Police said the death toll was
provisional, with the Kenyan Red Cross listing 63 people as still missing.
Top forensic experts and investigators from Israel, the US
and Britain are supporting Kenyan teams, officials said, with many questions
remaining over the identity of the attackers, the possible presence of a British
woman and American jihadists, and how the cell got such large quantities of
weapons and ammunition into the complex.
'Many bodies' still inside
An AFP reporter outside the bullet-riddled mall saw teams of
sniffer dogs, which will check for explosives and victims buried under the
rubble of a collapsed part of the building. One rescue worker said he saw
"many bodies" inside.
"The army told us we would get access to the bodies
yesterday, but then said it was too dangerous for us to go in because of booby
traps and because of the part that caved in. We have to get access today,"
a Kenyan Red Cross official told AFP.
"The bodies that are still inside the mall will have to
be identified from photos. They are now in such a state of decomposition that
you can't put a family member through that," the official said.
In one of the worst attacks in Kenya's history, the
militants marched into the four-storey, part Israeli-owned mall at midday
Saturday, spraying shoppers with automatic weapons fire and tossing grenades.
The attack, which intelligence experts said they had no
specific prior warning of, was well planned and prepared, with fighters stocked
with enough ammunition to hold off Kenyan forces backed by American, British
and Israeli agents.
Close to 200 were wounded in the siege, which saw running
battles between militants and security forces in one of Nairobi's largest and
most modern shopping centres. The mall is popular with wealthy Kenyans,
diplomats, UN workers and other expatriates, and was packed when the attack
The siege developed into a hostage drama with Al-Shabaab
claiming civilians were being held, and Kenyan special forces described the
final stand-off as delicate - with gunmen running and hiding in supermarket
aisles, store rooms, a cinema and casino and placing booby traps.
Al-Shabaab fighters said they carried out the attack in
retaliation for Kenya's two-year battle against the extremists' bases in the
A British national was also arrested in Nairobi, Britain's
foreign office said, without giving further details.
Families of those still missing are anxiously waiting for
news of their relatives, with the Red Cross and expert counsellors and
psychologists setting up tents at Nairobi's City Mortuary to offer support to sobbing
Security has also been beefed up across the capital, but
away from the burnt out Westgate complex, people in Nairobi appeared to be
trying to return, as far as possible, to everyday life.
"It is about getting on and not letting the terrorists
win by disturbing our lives any more," said student James Kamau, reading a
newspaper full of photographs of heavily armed KDF soldiers staging the
final operations to clear the mall of attackers late on Tuesday.