Mall Siege In Kenya Enters Its Third Day
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. All this morning, we've been following the rapidly changing siege of a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Gunshots and explosions continued through much of today, a third day after militants began their attack that has killed more than 60 people. The group al-Shabaab, from neighboring Somalia, claims responsibility for this attack. We got a sense of the scene earlier today when NPR's Gregory Warner was at the mall, describing the attack.
GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Once they were inside, they continued to shoot. I'm mentioning - there's a plume of teargas coming my way, so I'm going to have to try not to cough as I'm answering this question.
INSKEEP: Gregory, move as you need to move, by all means.
WARNER: Again, this teargas is sent from the police because - yeah - what - I will but, you know, we'll see what I can bear.
INSKEEP: That was NPR's Gregory Warner a bit earlier today, at the scene of that shopping mall. Since then, officials have said they are wrapping up their operation to secure the mall. So let's get an update from Gregory Warner, who is still in Nairobi.
And Gregory, I hope you had a chance to wipe your eyes and clear out the sinuses since we last talked.
WARNER: Yeah. I washed my hands, and I washed my nose; and I feel good now.
INSKEEP: OK. So what is the situation like?
WARNER: So I've moved a little bit away, back to the bureau, just about three minutes away from the mall. But I can still see smoke from where I am. There are helicopters buzzing, lots more helicopters than we've seen so far. When I was last seeing the smoke - when we were last talking, we weren't sure why that fire was caused. Minister Joseph Ole Lenku, the interior minister for Kenya, said that the fire was caused by militants, to distract the operation. He said it was militants burning mattresses. I will say that there was a lot of black smoke. There must have been, I guess, a lot a mattresses.
Ole Lenku - Minister Ole Lenku also says that two militants have been killed so far, and that the shooters were all men; men dressed as women - some of them were dressed as women. This will put to rest some of the speculation that women were leading this onslaught. He finally said that "we're in the sanitizing phase of this operation."
INSKEEP: OK. I'm trying to now sort out those statements. You have told us that officials said there were 10 to 15 attackers.
INSKEEP: You said two militants have been killed so far. Should we conclude, then, that there are still some militants at large in there, or that their fate is not known - the other militants?
WARNER: I think we should conclude that a sanitizing operation includes killing or apprehending militants because otherwise, they would be finished with their operation. They would declare victory. They're not declaring victory yet. In fact, they're continuing to throw teargas to keep onlookers away, as they continue this operation.
One of the questions, also, is not - not just how many militants, but how many civilians are still in there. Again, you know, we were hearing conflicting reports. I got on a source that there were around three dozen militant - three dozen hostages or civilians trapped inside. That was yesterday, though. It's a very fluid situation. We don't know how many civilians might still be there, even right now.
INSKEEP: You know, this notion of militants dressed as women, does this help explain how they got past whatever security there may have been at the outside edge of the mall, and got inside so easily?
WARNER: Well, you know, their technique in getting into the mall was much more overt. They just started shooting. What I heard from witnesses - and now has been confirmed by CCTV, closed-circuit TV cameras - is that the mode of entry was very similar to the Mumbai bombings in India, where they pulled up in a car to a location - in this case, Westgate Mall - where just innocent shoppers were just going about their business. They immediately came out of the cars, started shooting; walked up the stairs, killing people as the people were coming out with their shopping bags.
Westgate Mall is not heavily guarded. There are a few guards at the banks. There are a few guards walking around. And then there are some folks at the front who are unarmed, and they're just asking to look in your purse or your backpack. They just shot right through that.
INSKEEP: OK. Just got a couple seconds, here. But what does it mean that this place that felt so secure for Kenyans was attacked in this way?
WARNER: You know, I think it's important for Americans to realize what a mall is in Nairobi. In America, a mall is all about convenience. In Nairobi, it's really about safety, and it's about some kind of shelter from Nairobi's dangerous streets.
WARNER: If that's away, then who knows what's left for Nairobians.
INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much. That's NPR's Gregory Warner.