Extremists attack upscale hotel complex in Nairobi, Kenya

Posted at 7:35 AM, Jan 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-15 10:35:28-05

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - Extremists attacked a luxury hotel in Kenya's capital Tuesday, sending people fleeing in panic as explosions and heavy gunfire reverberated through the complex. A witness reported seeing at least two bodies.

Al-Shabab — the Somalia-based extremist group that carried out the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi that left 67 people dead — claimed responsibility and said its members were still fighting inside.

Several vehicles burned. People were rushed, some carried, from the scene. At least one was on a stretcher. Some ducked behind cars, screaming. Others appeared to take cover behind fountains and other features at the lush complex, which includes the DusitD2 hotel, along with bars, restaurants, banks and offices.

"It is terrible. What I have seen is terrible. I have seen a human as I ran out and there is what looks like minced meat all over," said one man who ran from the scene, Charles Njenga.

What appeared to be plainclothes security forces inched their way toward the scene, guns in hand.

"We have sent officers to the scene, including from the anti-terrorism unit, but so far we have no more information," police spokesman Charles Owino said.

It was not clear how many attackers took part.

A witness, Robert Murire, said he saw at least two bodies at the scene, along with attackers wearing green and wrapped in ammunition.

The attack came a day after a magistrate ruled that three men must stand trial on charges they were involved in the Westgate Mall siege. A fourth suspect was freed for lack of evidence.

Gunfire continued several minutes after the first reports as ambulances, security forces and firefighters rushed to the scene. Black smoke rose from the complex. A bomb disposal unit arrived, and vehicles were cordoned off for fear they contained explosives.

Police said they detonated a car that had explosives inside. An unexploded grenade was also seen in a hallway at the complex.

A large group of women were hurried out by security forces, one woman still in curlers. Dozens of others were hurried away as plainclothes officers went shop to shop in the complex. Some people held up their hands to show they were unarmed.

Al-Shabab has vowed retribution against Kenya for sending troops to Somalia since 2011. The al-Qaida-linked group has killed hundreds of people in Kenya, which has been targeted more than any other of the six countries providing troops to an African Union force in Somalia.

The attack immediately reminded many Kenyans of the Westgate Mall attack, when al-Shabab extremists burst into the luxury shopping center, hurling grenades and starting a days-long siege.

The hotel complex in Nairobi's Westlands neighborhood is less than 2 kilometers from Westgate Mall and is in what is considered one of the most secure areas of the city. It lies on a relatively quiet, tree-lined road near a main avenue. Its website says it is "cocooned away from the hustle and bustle in a secure and peaceful haven."

The attack came three years to the day after al-Shabab extremists attacked a Kenyan military base in Somalia, killing scores of people.