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Al-Shabaab militants kill 14 people in a hotel siege in Nairobi

"We can confirm that 14 innocent lives were lost through the hands of these murderous terrorists."

by Tim Hume
Jan 16 2019, 12:35pm

Getty Images

At least 14 people were killed during a 20-hour terrorist siege in a Nairobi hotel and office complex that Kenyan security forces ended early Wednesday.

President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a televised address that all of the attackers, claimed by the al-Qaeda-linked Somali militant group al-Shabaab, had been “eliminated.”

“As of this moment, we can confirm that 14 innocent lives were lost through the hands of these murderous terrorists,” he said.

Kenyatta said more than 700 civilians had been safely evacuated from the complex, where terrified hotel guests and office workers had barricaded themselves inside rooms to avoid the gunmen. Witnesses said that many in the complex had tried to flee when the attack began, before turning and running back inside as they came under fire.

Despite a claim from a senior official late Tuesday that the complex had been secured, gunfire continued into the morning. It was not until early Wednesday that the last remaining civilians were rescued from the complex.

The attack on the complex, home to global firms including Colgate Palmolive, Dow Chemical and Pernod Ricard, as well as the DusitD2 hotel, closely resembled the September 2013 al-Shabaab siege of a nearby shopping complex in which 67 people were killed.

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Kenyan security forces take cover after hearing gunfire coming from the Dusit Hotel complex on January 15, 2018 in Nairobi, Kenya. (Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)

It began shortly after 3pm local time Tuesday, when the militants detonated bombs in a car park before entering the hotel lobby, where one detonated a suicide explosive, police said.

The majority of those killed were Kenyan citizens, with an American and a Briton among the dead. The slain American was named as Jason Spindler, C.E.O. of a consulting firm whose Africa headquarters is based in the complex.

Among those rescued was Brian Kuira, who appealed on Twitter for information about what was happening as he heard gunshots, before announcing his rescue four hours later.

“We’ve been rescued from Dusit. I have a new found respect for Kenyan cops, so professional as they evacuated us,” he tweeted.

The Somali-based Islamist militant group al-Shabaab has repeatedly shown its ability to strike targets inside Kenya, despite a heavy U.S.-backed air campaign against it by the Kenyan air force. Kenya has been a leading power in the regional peacekeeping operation supporting Somalia’s government in its fight against the Islamist group.

READ: Kenyans face a fake news epidemic

Al-Shabaab’s targets in Kenya have included those attracting professionals and expats, such as the 2013 Westgate mall attack. Two years later, it carried out its deadliest attack on Kenyan soil, killing nearly 150 people at Garissa University.

The threat posed by the group on Kenyan soil was largely restricted to border areas, where fighters could cross to carry out attacks before retreating back into Somalia, Christopher Hawkins, senior analyst at Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center, told VICE News. But the latest attack showed their continued intent and occasional capacity to strike in the capital — likely with the assistance of affiliated domestic contacts — despite concerted efforts by Kenyan security forces since the 2013 Westgate attack.

Cover image: People run away from the Dusit Hotel after being rescued on January 15, 2018 in Nairobi, Kenya. (Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)