NAIROBI, Kenya — Some answers may be revealed in blood-stained halls or deep in the rubble of Nairobi’s Westgate Mall. Others may never be known.
That’s the reality for investigators and the people of Kenya on Wednesday, still coming to grips with a vicious attack and armed standoff that ended a day earlier with all the perpetrators believed to be either detained or dead.
Details continue to emerge that paint a picture of the horror and drama that transpired over those four days, as well as of the actions and mindset of perpetrators believed to belong to the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab terrorist group.
It all started on Saturday when they — after reportedly escorting out Muslims — stormed into the upscale mall and began shooting. A senior Kenyan government official said they took “very few” people captive; the attackers were primarily out for blood.
“They were not interested in hostage-taking,” the official said. “They only wanted to kill.”
One thing they did not want to do was talk — Al-Shabaab stated this flatly on Twitter early on in the crisis.
“We wanted to negotiate,” said the Kenyan official. “They didn’t even respond.”
We’ll never know the thinking of the five terrorists killed — including a still unidentified woman, according to the official, who added it’s too early to tell whether she’s British national Samantha Lewthwaite.
Yet it is possible that the at least 11 people arrested in connection with the attack could offer fresh insights, according to President Uhuru Kenyatta. One of them is a British national, the UK foreign office said Wednesday.
Whether or not they do, investigators will continue to dig for clues. Some of them — including the final tally of people taken hostage, as well as the number of attackers killed — could be gleaned from what is left of three collapsed floors of the once pristine mall.
Attackers ‘all went to one corner’
Without accounting for bodies that may be buried in the rubble, Kenyatta said Tuesday that at least 61 civilians and six security officers had died in the attack, in addition to some 175 injured.
The president promised “full accountability” for the “mindless destruction, deaths, pain, loss and suffering we have all undergone” in a nationally televised speech.
“These cowards will meet justice, as will their accomplices and patrons wherever they are,” Kenyatta vowed.
The worst of the bloodshed took place Saturday, when the gunmen entered a mall full of shoppers and diners.
Some caught in the crosshairs didn’t survive. Others took shelter wherever they could — in bathroom stalls and stairwells and various nooks of the expansive mall.
Even after the vast majority of people were gone by Saturday night, a few remained trapped. Despite being hampered by prank calls made from around Kenya, authorities were able to rescue at least six people including one woman who’d taken refuge in a car trunk, the government official said.
Kenyan soldiers and police entered the mall by late Saturday, and the attackers eventually regrouped in an area near a grocery store and a bank.
“(They) all went to one corner,” the senior government official said.
But even after five suspected terrorists died in fighting Sunday, the crisis stretched on.
On Monday a fire broke out. Militants set it as a diversion, as they tried to escape, the Kenyan official said. The attempt failed.
“They lit the fire to create a smokescreen,” he said. “Two of them drove out from the parking lot, and we forced them back in.”
Gunshots broke out yet again Tuesday, though the same source said it was from authorities “shooting into the air to see if there would be a response” not because the attackers were firing back.
“You see, Westgate is a complicated building,” the official said, talking about the prolonged operation. “Anyone who is familiar with that building knows it is very complicated.”
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