Kenyan security forces were locked in a stand-off on Sunday with gunmen who killed at least 39 people at an upmarket shopping mall in the Kenyan capital, order and it was still unclear how many hostages the al Qaeda-linked militants were holding.
Shooting continued hours after the initial assault as troops surrounded the Westgate mall and police and soldiers combed the building, check hunting the attackers shop by shop. A police officer inside the building said the gunmen were barricaded inside a Nakumatt supermarket, one of Kenya’s biggest chains.
“We got three bodies from this shop,” said volunteer Vipool Shah, 64, standing a dozen metres from the supermarket entrance and pointing to a children’s shoe shop where blood lay in pools.
Three Israelis were reportedly wounded in the attack, but there were no reports of Israelis or other Jews among the dead.
The attackers reportedly singled out non-Muslims in the heartless attack, but it’s unclear whether the mall’s Israeli ownership played any role. It’s one of the most popular shopping spots for foreigners and middle-class Kenyans alike.
Ilana Stein, a spokeswoman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the New York Times that Israelis had not been specifically targeted. “This time, the story is not about Israel,” Ms. Stein said.
Gilad Milo, an Israeli who witnessed the shooting, told Channel 2 News: “All the Israelis were evacuated from the place as far as we know… It was a very difficult day for us. It is a very difficult day for us. It is a very popular spot in the city. We go to that mall all the time.”
Haaretz spoke on the phone with one of the Israeli owners, Alex Trajtenberg, who confirmed he is a partner in the mall but declined to comment further.
Officials in the Israeli foreign ministry said that three Israeli citizens that were in the mall at the time of the attack were able to escape unharmed and were collected by the Deputy Israeli Ambassador to Kenya Yaki Lopez and the embassy security officer that were present on the scene.