Gunmen blasted their way into a hotel and office complex in the Kenyan capital on Tuesday, killing at least 15 people in an attack claimed by Somalia-based group al Shabaab.
The siege lasted almost 12 hours and after a gruelling standoff, reports still suggest that the attackers were not apprehended, despite government assurances.
The assault began at Nairobi’s upscale 14 Riverside Drive complex, bursts of gunfire and an explosion were heard in the area.
Nairobi is a major hub for expatriates and the compound targeted contained offices of various international companies. The area targeted is a commercial hub of international companies including Colgate Palmolive, Reckitt Benckiser, Pernod Ricard, Dow Chemical and SAP, as well as the dusitD2 hotel, part of Thai group Dusit Thani.
On the ground, sources suggest hundreds of people were still hiding inside the complex, and a first responder in touch with many of them said some needed first aid for gunshot wounds. By 1 am local time (2200 GMT), 15 deaths had been confirmed and more were expected.
Identification papers indicated that 11 were Kenyan, one was American and one was British, he said. The other two were not carrying documents.
Kenya’s Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i had said at 11 pm that all buildings at the scene had been secured and scores of people evacuated. But he did not comment on the attackers’ whereabouts and said security forces were still “mopping up”.
Violent scenes from the ground suggest the brutality and savage nature of the attackers. The attackers charged the main door to the hotel, and it was blown open, leaving behind a human arm severed from the shoulder.
Rescuers were joined by civilians, who were also armed, and a group of 5 entered the building including a policeman and two soldiers, but quickly retreated as they came under fire from the attackers. An unexploded grenade lay in the lobby.
Kenya has often been targeted by al Shabaab, who killed 67 people at the Westgate shopping centre in 2013 and nearly 150 students at Garissa University in 2015. Al Shabaab says its attacks are revenge for Kenyan troops stationed inside Somalia, which has been riven by civil war since 1991.
Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinnet said the attack began around 3 pm with an explosion targeting cars outside a bank followed by a detonation from a suicide bomber in the hotel lobby.
Kenyan television featured appeals for blood from local hospitals and showed police cordoning off the route to ensure vehicles could move quickly. Red Cross ambulances ferried victims away.
Al Shabaab, which wants to overthrow the weak, United Nations-backed Somali government and impose strict Islamic law, immediately took responsibility for the attack.
Earlier in the day, office workers had streamed from the complex, some jumping from windows. Security forces continued to escort small groups to safety into the evening, with some hustled into armoured vehicles amid sporadic gunfire.
Foreign security advisers at the site scrambled to make sure their clients were safe.