Anti-terrorist forces trying to regain control of complex seized amid explosions
Jason Burke Africa correspondent
Tue 15 Jan 2019 14.51 GMT First published on Tue 15 Jan 2019 13.28 GMT
0:53 Gunshots and fire at Nairobi hotel complex – video
Police and anti-terrorist forces have been fighting to regain control of a hotel and office complex in the centre of Nairobi after it was seized by gunmen.
Witnesses in the Kenyan capital said betweenfour and six armedmen had rushed into the dusitD2 compound, which includes a hotel, restaurants, a spa and several office buildings housing international companies, at about 3pm on Tuesday. Sustained automatic gunfire and grenade explosions were heard shortly afterwards, as scores of people fled the scene.
There were reports that at least three people had been killed and one suspect detained. Many more have been wounded with local hospitals asking for blood donations.
Police officials have said that “armed criminals are still holed up in the building and that special forces are currently flushing them out”.
One man came out covered in blood as students were evacuated from a nearby university building. Four ambulances and a fire engine arrived at the scene as fleeing office workers told reporters their colleagues were still huddled under their desks.
The attack bore many of the hallmarks of a terrorist operation and was being described as a terrorist incident by police at the scene.
Al-Shabaab, the militant Islamist organisation based in neighbouring Somalia, has already claimed responsibility on its in-house radio network and online. Al-Shabaab was responsible for an attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in 2013 which left at least 67 people dead.
Tuesday’s attack came exactly three years after a deadly al-Shabaab attack on a Kenyan military base in El-Adde in Somalia, where about 140 Kenya soldiers were killed.
“Al-Shabab mujahideen snipers are in operation in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Our intelligence confirms that mujahideen fighters stormed the target building”, the al-Shabaab statement said.
Simon Crump, who works at one of the offices, said workers had barricaded themselves inside after several explosions. “We have no idea what is happening. Gunshots are coming from multiple directions,” he told the AFP news agency, saying people were terrified.
As a helicopter flew low overhead witnesses at the scene said the gunmen and security forces were engaged in a fierce firefight. “There was a bomb, there is a lot of gunfire,” said one man working at the compound, asking not to be named.
Officials initially said the incident was a robbery, but later admitted they were dealing with a suspected terrorist attack.
“Security and emergency forces immediately responded to the incident and have cordoned off the area. The situation is being managed and residents are being screened and evacuated from the area,” Kenya’s Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet said.
Flames and plumes of black smoke billowed into the sky from the compound’s car park where several vehicles were on fire, and scores of people fled the scene, some of them injured. Advertisement
Witnesses said two cars had been driven at speed into the hotel complex at around 3pm after shooting at security personnel at its gates. Gunmen then threw grenades into parked vehicles and entered the complex, initially targeting a bank and diners at a Thai restaurant.
“They are using hand grenades, just like at the Westgate [Mall]. In a confined space teeming with people grenades and AK47s can do as much damage as a truck bomb,” said Rashid Abdi, an expert in Islamic militancy in east Africa with the International Crisis Group in Nairobi.
Kenya faced a spate of attacks after it sent its army into Somalia in October 2011 to fight al-Shabaab, which is affiliated to al-Qaida.
On 2 April 2015, al-Shabaab killed 148 people at a university in Garissa, eastern Kenya. Islamic State has a small presence in the Horn of Africa.
“It was always a matter of when not if. There has been some successes against al-Shabab in northern Kenya but if we have learned anything it is that al-Shabaab lulls security services into complacency. Months and years can go between attacks and then they strike,” said Abdi.
Authorities said they had been vigilant over the Christmas and New Year holiday season.
“Hotels and other public buildings remain under close watch. Reports from throughout the country indicate that everything remains calm and normal,” Boinnet told reporters.