NAIROBI, Kenya — Claiming to have “ashamed and defeated our attackers,” President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya said today that the bloody siege of a Nairobi shopping mall had ended, only hours after the militant group claiming responsibility for the assault said fighters inside the building were still resisting government efforts to dislodge them.
In a national address, Kenyatta declared three days of mourning, saying that 61 civilians and six members of Kenya’s security forces had died in the attack. He added that “five terrorists were killed with gunfire” and that 11 suspects were in custody.
“These cowards will meet justice, as will their accomplices and patrons wherever they are,” he said. “Kenya endured. Kenya endures.”
Earlier today, the Somalia-based al-Shabab militant group, which has taken responsibility for the attack, said in a message on a Twitter account linked with it that some hostages were still alive and that its fighters remained at large in the complex. The fighters, al-Shabab said, were “still holding their ground.”
The rattle of automatic weapons fire continued intermittently throughout the morning and black smoke continued to pour out of the mall, seeming to contradict earlier accounts from Kenyan officials late Monday that the crisis was nearing an end.
The exchanges on the ground were mirrored in a parallel clash of Twitter feeds with both sides advancing their conflicting versions of what was happening within the sealed-off confines of the mall.
“We’re in control of Westgate,” Kenya’s Interior Ministry said in a Twitter message late Monday, referring to the large mall — an emblem of modernity and prosperity frequented by middle class Kenyans and foreigners — that Islamist militants stormed on Saturday.
“We believe all hostages have been released,” the Kenya National Disaster Operation Center said in a Twitter message. “Special forces and KDF soldiers combing the building. Situation of hostiles to be confirmed.”
Throughout the four-day siege, members of the Kenyan Defense Forces struggled to vanquish the militants, who, after killing shoppers, holed up in various corners of the Westgate mall with military-grade weaponry. Hundreds of elite Kenyan troops — backed by armored personnel carriers, helicopters, planes and security officials from Britain, France, Israel and the United States — were deployed, but the militants refused to surrender.