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Monday, 23 September 2013

Kenya mall attack: Death toll now 68, 175 injured, 30 still held hostage •Ghanaian poet, Kofi Awoonor, killed

Sixty-eight dead. At least 175 injured. About 30 hostages still inside, as well as perhaps a dozen gunmen.
Those are the grim numbers, a day after attackers stormed an upscale Nairobi mall, spraying bullets and holding shoppers captive.
This was followed by a  large explosion which rocked the Kenyan mall where Islamic extremists are holding hostages.
Associated Press journalists at the Westgate mall said the Sunday afternoon explosion was by far the largest in the 30-hour siege. There was silence after the big blast.
An estimated 10 to 15 militant attackers are in the shopping mall holding an unknown number of captives. The Kenyan military has gone into the four-story mall and there have been sporadic gun battles.
Some Kenyan military were seen carrying in at least two rocket propelled grenades. Earlier military helicopters hovered over the mall.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta told reporters on Sunday afternoon the tragedy was personal; one of his nephews and his fiancee were among the 59 people killed.
“We will punish the masterminds (of the attack) swiftly, and indeed very painfully,” Kenyatta said.
Kenyan government and Western diplomatic sources said Al-Shabaab militants were holding about 30 hostages inside the shopping centre.
By noon Sunday, as grim-faced Kenyan soldiers warily searched the five-story building and as Al-Shabaab maintained its defiant stance,  the siege was no closer to a resolution.
Officials believe 10 to 15 gunmen are involved, State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu said on Sunday.
“We know that they were across the building,” Esipisu told CNN’s Zain Verjee. “We know that they are now isolated somewhere within the building.”
More than 175 were injured in the attack, Kenyatta said.
It was the deadliest terror attack in the nation since al Qaeda blew up the U.S. Embassy in 1998, killing more than 200 people.
The attack on Saturday targeted a popular weekend meeting spot.
Most of the casualties are Kenyans, authorities said. But the mall is popular with expatriates and foreign nationals, who were among those killed and injured.
Those killed include three British citizens, two French nationals and two Canadians, including a diplomat, their governments said.
Several American citizens were among the wounded, including Elaine Dang, a University of California, Berkeley, graduate.
Kenyans and expatriates gather at the luxurious Westgate mall on weekends to drink lattes, catch a movie or browse through the more than 80 stores.
As the sun rose on Sunday, the standoff between Kenyan forces and the attackers continued.
Soldiers kept vigil outside the mall, guns dangling from their shoulders.
“We want to do everything possible, and the security people are doing everything possible to make sure we lose no more lives,” Esipisu said.
Three injured security forces were taken out of the besieged mall, but the severity of their injuries was unclear.
By midday Sunday, at least 1,000 people had been freed from the mall, Esipisu said. “Our priority is now those that remain inside.”
An apparent hostage left the building Sunday, and said she had been hiding in the basement of the mall, CNN affiliate KTN reported.
Al-Shabaab has vowed not to negotiate with Kenyan authorities. Israeli special forces are at the scene and are working with their Kenyan counterparts in the hostage crisis, Kenyan government sources tell CNN.
Esipisu said there were reports of a white woman among the hostage takers. Kenyan intelligence officials were investigating the claims, he said.
Esipisu was asked if the reported woman was thought to be the infamous Al-Shabaab-affiliated “White Widow,” Samantha Lewthwaite. “Nothing is being ruled out,” he said.
But CNN terrrorism analyst, Peter Bergen said it was unlikely.
“It would be very unusual for a woman to be involved in one of these operations,” he said. “Typically these groups are misogynist. Their view is the woman should be in a home and shrouded in a body veil.”
Lewthwaite’s husband, Germaine Lindsey, was one of the suicide bombers killed in the 2005 attack on London’s transportation system. His Buckinghamshire-born widow is wanted by Kenyan authorities for her alleged role as an Al-Shabaab and al Qaeda-linked financier.
The calm was shattered around noon local time on Saturday. Gunshots erupted as shoppers picked up groceries, savored lunch and browsed through the racks at stores. Before long, pools of blood smeared pristine hallways. Bodies lay strewn across the floor.
Uche Kaigwa-Okoye was sipping coffee when he heard what first sounded like a fallen table, then the continuing rat-a-tat of gunfire. As the gunshots became louder, screaming crowds headed for the exits.
Sara Head, a Washington resident, experienced similar horror in the mall’s parking garage. As her car pulled up, she heard gunfire. She crawled underneath and hid behind cars before getting into a stairwell.
Eventually, the stairwell lights came back on and the door to a nearby supermarket opened. She dashed through, passed a nearby loading dock and fled to safety.
“There was blood throughout the supermarket,” Head said. “It wasn’t clear if it was OK to exit.”
The national disaster agency reported early Sunday morning that five “visibly shaken” hostages had been released. It said “major operations underway.” What that meant was a mystery.
As people texted family and friends outside the mall, word spread that nobody could be trusted. And even if the good guys could be sorted from the bad guys, the intermittent barrages of gunfire made any escape attempt seem futile.
Foreigners among casualties
Dang worked as the general manager for Eat Out Kenya, which confirmed her injuries on its Twitter and Facebook pages.
The State Department said Saturday there were several Americans among the injured, but none among the dead. Secretary of State John Kerry didn’t offer details.
The U.S. Embassy is asking personnel to stay in place Sunday and avoid the Westgate Mall area and any large gatherings. All U.S. citizens in Kenya are urged to register online so the embassy can provide them with updated information on travel and security — and can contact them in case of emergency.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said one national was slightly wounded and three escaped. A cafe at the mall is owned by an Israeli, but the ministry does not believe the mall was targeted because of that.
The Ghana president’s office said literary figure Kofi Awoonor was among those killed in the attack.
“Such a sad twist of fate to place Prof at the wrong place at the wrong time,” President John Mahama said in a statement.
A plea for blood
Several Kenyan agencies made a plea for blood donations.
“Hospitals are appealing for more blood, the response is incredible but more is needed,” tweeted Francis Kimemia, secretary to the Cabinet.
And as the nation grappled with the aftermath, Kenyatta blasted “the despicable perpetrators of this cowardly act,” and said they will be brought to justice.
‘We shall hunt down the perpetrators’
Kenya is no stranger to terrorism.
A 1998 bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi left 213 dead. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.
Since Kenya launched attacks against Al-Shabaab in Somalia in 2011, the group has hurled grenades at Kenyan churches, bus stops and other public places.
In a televised speech late Saturday, Kenyatta said his nation has “overcome” attacks before, refusing to budge from its values or relinquish its security. And it will do so again, he promised.
“We shall hunt down the perpetrators wherever they run to,” the president said. “We shall get them, and we shall punish them for this heinous crime.”
But first, authorities will have to get to all the assailants and hostages still inside the mall.
Kofi Awoonor, Ghanaian poet, killed in mall attack
Professor Kofi Awoonor, one of the speakers at Storymoja Hay Festival, has died after sustaining injuries during the attack at Westgate shopping centre.
Ghanaian poet and diplomat, Kofi Awoonor is among the 68 killed during the attack on Westgate Mall. He died on Saturday, aged 78, from injuries sustained in the attack on Westgate Mall, Nairobi.
According to The Telegraph, the Ghanaian government confirmed Awoonor’s death early Sunday morning. Awoonor’s son had been shot in the shoulder during the attack, for which Somali militant group Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility, and was treated and discharged from hospital late on Saturday. Awoonor was in Nairobi to speak at the Storymoja Hay Festival, a four-day celebration of writing, thinking and storytelling. Along with Ghanaian poets Nii Parkes and Kwame Dawes, he was due to perform on Saturday evening as part of a showcase of award-winning poetry from both sides of Africa.
He said during the festival that the event had “the best representation of Ghanaian authors that we have ever had” and commended the fellow authors and writers there: “Together we are discussing the birthing pains of countries.”
During a poetry masterclass that Awoonor held at the festival he discussed mortality and said he was unafraid of death. Julie Muriuki, a writer who attended, posted on a blog afterwards: “I’ve been looking for my writing voice and Awoonor has shown me where to find it. I’m eternally grateful.”
Awoonor was born in 1935 and became known for his poetry, early collections of which were heavily inspired by the dirge singing and oral poetry of his native Ewe tribe. He published his first collection, Rediscovery and Other Poems, in 1964.
Awoonor gained a masters degree in literature at University College, London in 1970. His second collection, Night of My Blood, was released in 1971 and was a series of poems that explore Awoonor’s roots and the impact of colonialism and foreign rule in Africa.
Awoonor was a diplomat as well as a poet. He served as Ghana’s Ambassador to the United Nations between 1990 and 1994, where he was the head of the committee against Apartheid. In 1975 Awoonor was imprisoned without trial for several months.
He was later brought to court on charges of helping ‘political criminal,’ ex-Brigadier Kattah, flee the country. Awoonor denied aiding Kattah’s escape, but admitted to hosting him. His imprisonment was met with protest from International PEN, Amnesty International and writers including beat poet Allen Ginsberg. His third collection, The House By the Sea, was inspired by his incarceration and was published in 1978.
Tributes to Awoonor have been posted on social media since news of his death broke early on Sunday morning. Dawes, who spoke on Saturday without Awoonor, wrote on Twitter: “Kofi Awoonor’s death is a sad sad moment here in Nairobi. We have lost one of the greatest African poets and diplomats. I’ve lost my uncle. I woke hoping that the news I got late in the night was false.”
Teju Cole, a Nigerian author who had spoken at this year’s festival, was one of the many people who quoted lines from Awoonor’s poetry in celebration of his life and work.
Foreigners are not safe in Kenya —Al-Shabaab -Claims responsibility for mall attack
Al-Shabaab, the militant group which has claimed responsibility for the Nairobi shopping mall attack, tells Channel 4 News “if Kenyans don’t leave our land, we will wage a real war.”
Al-Shabaab, al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia, claiming responsibility, said it was not backing down. In a message on its Twitter feed, the group said “all Muslims” were escorted from the mall before the attack.
“When justice is denied, it must be enforced,” it said in a tweet on Sunday. “Kenyans were relatively safe in their cities before they invaded us & killed Muslims Westgate.”

Armed militants from al-Shabaab, the Somali-based, al-Qaeda-linked group, are still inside the Westgate shopping centre in Kenya’s capital Nairobi. Reporter Jamal Osman interviewed a spokesman for the group to find out the reasons for the attack, and what message they have for the West.

Jamal Osman: “Why did you do the attack?”
Al-Shabaab spokesman: “The reason we attacked is to defend our people our country, because Kenya attacked us, they are still controlling parts of our land.
“We have been peaceful neighbours, but they are the ones who attacked us and we are defending ourselves. Whether you are Muslim or Christian, the law says you have to defend yourself from those who attack you.

JO: “You have killed lots of different nationalities, including Britons; don’t you fear powerful countries will come after you?”
AS: “We have told the Kenyans and those who come to Kenya that we will not tolerate what Kenya is doing to us. We told them we would defend ourselves and we warned them about travelling to Kenya.
“Kenyans have blood on their hands. Anyone who is prepared to come to Kenya must be prepared to face the reality, and we don’t fear Europeans and Americans because we are not weak.
“And we are saying to the Europeans and the Americans who have been supporting those who have been attacking us, you should tell the Kenyans to stop their aggression if you want to be safe.”

JO: “Why did you target Westgate mall?”
AS: The reason why we have targeted the Westgate mall is because the Kenyans and their government have taken up arms against us, they are our enemies.
“They have sent their men into Somalia; they have supported their government to invade our country.
“For us anywhere in Kenya is the same, we will hit them wherever we can. The reason we targeted Westgate is that we know it’s a place where they feel the most pain.
“It’s because it brings in a lot of money and is in the centre of the city. It’s where they will feel pain and because we wanted to send a message and we didn’t want to waste our message.
“We wanted our message to reach every Kenyan.”
JO: “Are your fighters inside the mall still fighting?”
AS: “It’s been more than 27 hours; they are still inside and still in control.”
JO: “I am hearing there is a female fighter in there too?”
AS: “We don’t send our women onto the battlefield. I am saying to you we do not use women on the battlefield.”
JO: “What are you expecting to happen now, what will be the outcome of this?”
AS: “God willing, we are expecting the Kenyans to get the message that if you spill blood, your blood too will be spilt. For them to know that they cannot be in control of Kismayu, Dhobley and Afmadow and expect to live peacefully in Nairobi. That’s the message we want to send to them.
JO: “In some of your messages on Twitter you say this is just the beginning and you will keep going, or have you achieved your aims?”
AS: “We are saying to the Kenyans, leave our country. That’s the first message. And if they refuse to leave our country then we will wage real war.”
JO: “So your condition to the Kenyans, is leave your country if they want peace?”
AS: “If Kenyans want peace, they have to leave our country.”
JO: “Why are you targeting innocent people?”
AS: “The foreigners have to leave the country because we (the Kenyans and al-Shabaab) are in conflict with each other and we are telling everyone not to be mistaken - Kenya is a war zone.”
JO: “Since you say foreigners and British people have huge interest in Kenya, what’s your message to them?”
AS: “We are saying to the British, since we believe they are helping the Kenyans, and Kenyans are their slaves, they (the British) should tell the Kenyans, they should order back the Kenyan army out of Somalia.”
“And the English know Somalis will not give up the fight. We denied the British before, who are much stronger than the Kenyans.”
Ban Ki-moon condemns attack -Obama, Cameron offer support
United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon has slammed the deadly terrorist attack at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, calling the act totally reprehensible.
Ban spoke with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta by phone and extended his condolences to the families of the deceased and the wounded.
“This premeditated act, targeting defenceless civilians, is totally reprehensible,” Ban said, adding that “he trusts that those responsible for this attack will be brought to justice.
In a press statement, UN Security Council members condemned the terrorist attack “in the strongest possible terms” and reiterated their determination to combat all forms of terrorism.
Also, the United States has offered its full support to the Kenyan government to bring to justice those responsible for “this heinous act,” according to a statement released by the White House.
“We will continue to stand with the Kenyan people in their efforts to confront terrorism in all its forms, including the threat posed by Al-Shabaab,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, according to the statement.
“This cowardly act against innocent civilians will not shake our resolve.”
The Obama administration also extended its condolences to the families of those killed and injured, including a number of U.S. citizens hurt in the attack, the statement said.
Likewise, British Prime Minister, David Cameron has spoken with Kenya’s president, who briefed him on “the current situation and explained that Kenyan security forces were bringing the situation under control,” according to a statement released by 10 Downing Street.
Cameron “passed on his sincere condolences and assured President Kenyatta that our thoughts were with him and all the people of Kenya at this difficult time,” it said.
“The prime minister said we were ready to provide any assistance we could.”

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