Wed September 25, 2013
Investigation Continues After Nairobi Mall Siege
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. A day after the four-day siege at the Nairobi mall, Kenyans are counting their losses. A premiere mall, a symbol of Kenya's rising economy, is in shambles. The death toll stands at 71, but it's feared to be far higher than that. And there are also worries that terrorists who escaped from this siege are planning another attack.
NPR's Gregory Warner has been covering this story from the beginning and he joins us with the latest on this story. Gregory, first, among the claims that al-Shabaab is making is that Kenyan security forces used chemical weapons to route out the militants. What is Kenya's response to that?
GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Well, Robert, I would put this probably in the category of terrorist PR. You know, this popped up as a claim on a Twitter account of al-Shabaab that they said that Kenyan forces had fired chemical weapons to end the siege. Of course, Kenyan authorities deny it. Counterterrorism sources I spoke to are just deeply skeptical that Kenya even has the capability for chemical warfare or if they did, would risk it with all the FBI agents and other foreign advisors who are hanging around.
What's interesting is that this whole attack has been live-tweeted by al-Shabaab. So even as they were fighting against Kenyan security forces inside the mall, they were trading tweets. It's really part of their strategy.
SIEGEL: The Kenyans have said that the top three floors of Westgate Mall collapsed toward the end of the siege. I gather it's a four-story mall. What can you tell us about that and what it means for people who might have been hiding out inside?
WARNER: What I can tell you is that we saw RPGs, other heavy artillery being brought into this mall. That's seriously heavy artillery for a mall. Also, the terrorists had stashed away some heavy artillery of their own. So after this four-day standoff where we heard explosions and we heard gunshots throughout, three floors collapsed.
Kenyan authorities say there was no one left inside when it collapsed. The interior minister said that any body left in the rubble is that of a terrorist, but the Kenyan Red Cross says there's still 71 people missing. And I called up a fairly senior person in the Kenyan Red Cross. He's not authorized to speak to the press. He said there were still civilians left inside, people who were crushed, people who may have been accidently shot by Kenyan security forces and he says the death toll could easily climb to over 100.
SIEGEL: Gregory, is there any new information about the attackers?
WARNER: Well, President Uhuru Kenyatta addressed this in his speech last night. He said Kenyan intelligence had indicated that two to three Americans and perhaps a British woman were among the terrorists who attacked the mall. Now, U.S. counterterrorism officials that I've spoken with have not denied this.
The sad part is we may never know the identities of the attackers because some of them actually escaped. Apparently, they walked out with their hands up with the hostages after changing clothes. That would be especially easy for Westerners to slip out with the crowds.
U.S. officials I've spoken to are very concerned about this 'cause it means that the ringleaders could be planning another attack.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Gregory Warner in Nairobi. Gregory, thank you.
WARNER: Thanks, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.