Two French citizens were among the 62 people killed in last week’s terrorist shooting attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The attack also left 175 people wounded. Other foreign victims include an unknown number Americans, at least one British citizen, and two Canadians, one of whom was identified as Annemarie Desloges, a visiting diplomat.
In a statement at the Elysée Palace, French President François Hollande said that he “condemns this cowardly attack in the strongest terms, and shares the pain of the families of our compatriots.”
The Islamist militant group al-Shabaab, a Somali affiliate of al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Westgate mall, targeted for its commercial value, is representative of Kenya’s rising capitalist prosperity. Westgate is a five-story structure with glass elevators, frozen yogurt stores, and movie theatres, popular with foreign visitors and expatriates. The mall also features an Israeli-owned food court on the ground floor, which could have further motivated the attack.
American and other foreign experts had long warned that the mall’s lack of security left it vulnerable to attack, a fact that was proven true when it took Kenyan police forces nearly 48 hours to secure the building.
Security forces retook the building floor-by-floor starting on Saturday, with shooting continuing into Sunday morning. France 24’s Catherine Norris-Trent reported from Nairobi that, “the final push to try to eradicate the militants from the inside has been proving extremely complex and long drawn out.”
On Sunday evening, assailants and police forces found themselves in a standoff over a few remaining hostages. Sections of the building caught fire on Monday when the attackers lit a number of mattresses scattered around the mall. All hostages were reported freed by late Monday evening, though a security expert told the Associated Press that there was a likelihood that a few hostages remained inside.
In a Twitter feed set up by al-Shabaab during the attack, the militant group warned that “There will be no negotiations whatsoever at #Westgate,” before the groups Twitter handle, the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM) Press Office, was shut down. The terrorist group made a bold effort to publicize the event, sending a spokesman to a local radio address, emailing members of the press, and setting up multiple Twitter accounts.
Kenya has been actively combating al-Shabaab militants since 2011, when Kenyan troops were sent into Somalia as a part of an African Union mission to both defend Kenyan borders and quell militancy in Somalia. Al-Shabaab has continued to attack churches, mosques, and government outposts near the Kenyan-Somali border, though Kenya, with African Union support, has greatly suppressed al-Shabaab assaults in the last two years.
The international press has expressed concern that this highly public attack is a sign of the al-Qaeda associate’s return to power.