Gunmen blasted their way into a hotel and office complex in the Kenyan capital on Tuesday, killing at least 15 people and sending workers diving under desks from an attack claimed by Somali Islamist group al Shabaab.
Eight hours after the assault began at Nairobi’s upscale 14 Riverside Drive complex, a burst of gunfire was heard in the area, suggesting the situation was not yet under control.
Scores of people were still hiding inside the complex, a security source said. A mortuary worker told Reuters around midnight (2100 GMT) that 15 people were killed in the attack.
Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i had said at 11 p.m. that all buildings had been secured and scores of people evacuated from the scene. But he did not comment on the attackers’ whereabouts and said security forces were still “mopping up.” An hour after he spoke, the gunfire rang out. The power in the hotel was out, a Reuters journalist at the scene said.
Nairobi is a major expatriate hub, and the compound targeted contained offices of various international companies, in an echo of a deadly 2013 assault on a Nairobi shopping center in the same neighborhood.
“The main door of the hotel was blown open and there was a human arm in the street severed from the shoulder,” said Serge Medic, the Swiss owner of a security company who ran to the scene to help when he heard of the attack from his taxi driver.
Medic, who was armed, entered the building with a policeman and two soldiers, he said, but they came under fire and retreated. An unexploded grenade lay in the lobby, he said.
“One man said he saw two armed men with scarves on their head and bandoliers of bullets,” Medic told Reuters, as gunfire echoed in the background.
Kenya has often been targeted by al Shabaab, who killed 67 people at the Westgate shopping center in 2013 and nearly 150 students at Garissa university in 2015. Al Shabaab says its attacks are revenge for Kenyan troops stationed inside Somalia, which has been riven by civil war since 1991.
More than six hours after Tuesday’s attack began, many office workers were still holed up inside the complex as officers escorted small groups to safety, some with their hands in their air. Foreign security advisors at the site scrambled to make sure their clients were safe.
Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinnet said the attack began around 3 pm with an explosion targeting cars outside a bank followed by a detonation from a suicide bomber in the hotel lobby. As he spoke, a Reuters reporter on the scene reported heavy gunfire, then an explosion shortly afterwards.
CCTV footage showed three attackers dressed in black running across the parking lot at 3:30 p.m. shortly followed by a fourth. At least two of the men were wearing green scarves in the close-up footage. One appeared to be wearing a green belt with grenades in it.
At least seven people were killed and 25 wounded, hospital officials and witnesses told Reuters. Two Kenyans in their early 30’s working with governance consultants Adam Smith International were among the dead, a family member said. Both had young families, she said.
A Spanish national was among the injured, a Spanish diplomat told Reuters.
The US Embassy had “actively” offered assistance to local authorities, a State Department official said.
“We are working with the Kenyan authorities to determine if there are any US citizens affected,” the official said, adding all American diplomats were safe.