Unanswered questions surround Kenya Mall attack
ABOVE PHOTO: A plume of black smoke billows over the Westgate Mall, following large explosions and heavy gunfire, in Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Multiple large blasts have rocked Kenya’s Westgate Mall where a hostage siege is in its third day.
(AP Photo/Jonathan Kalan)
By Jacob Kushner and Jason Straziuso
NAIROBI, Kenya -- The Sept. 21 terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall produced a raft of questions that haven’t always had clear, complete answers. The answers to some questions about the attack have changed over time. Other questions haven’t yet been fully answered.
How many attackers were there? How many hostages? Were there any hostages at all? The Associated Press attempts to define what is known and not known about the deadly mall attack.
How many attackers took part in the Westgate attack?
What was said as the drama unfolded: Ten to 15 attackers, according to Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku the day after the attack.
What we know now: Officials now say five attackers have been killed, and other suspects have been arrested, including one who died in custody. Other arrests have been made though no top ranking officials have said if those suspects were inside the mall.
What remains murky: How many people may have been at the mall and part of the attack but fled before the protracted siege began.
Did a white female or any American citizens take part in the attack?
What was said: In a public address on the Tuesday after the attack, President Uhuru Kenyatta said a British woman and two or three American citizens may have been involved in the attack. Kenya’s foreign minister also had said a British citizen and some Americans may have taken part.
What we know now: Kenyan officials have since said no females took part, while U.S. officials have said they have no indications any Americans took part. No evidence that a white woman, namely Briton Samantha Lewthwaite, took part has emerged.
What remains murky: The rumors of American and British involvement appear to have begun when some media outlets reported a list of attackers from a fake al-Shabab Twitter account. Witness accounts of a woman taking part in the attack persist. No witnesses have come forward to say they saw Lewthwaite in action at the mall.
How many hostages did the attackers hold? Or, did they really hold any at all?
What was said: “Quite a number” of people were being held hostage, former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the day after the attack. Kenya’s military said later that night that “most” hostages had been “rescued.”
What we know now: Not that much. No Kenyan officials have ever said how many people were hostages. It remains possible some hostages were killed in the fire and collapse of part of the mall, but government officials have indicated they don’t expect that number to be high, and that perhaps there were no hostages inside at all.
What remains murky: The definition of “hostage” and the definition of “rescued.” It’s not clear that the mall attackers held hostages in the conventional sense - tied up, gagged, sitting in a corner. It may be that any “hostages” who were “rescued” were really shoppers hiding out in the mall who later came out when it appeared safe.
Why did three floors of the mall collapse?
What was said: Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said on Twitter the mall fire was set by terrorists. Another official said a mattress fire contributed to the building’s collapse.
What we know now: AP has since been told by two government officials in a position to know that offensive military action by Kenyan forces caused the building to collapse, though no Kenyan government official has said so publicly.
What remains murky: Exactly what caused the collapse. AP was told that rocket-propelled grenades were fired inside the mall, but it’s not clear if those RPGs took out support columns that caused the collapse or if some other explosive device did - or if the fire caused the collapse.
How many people were killed?
What was said: At least 61 civilians were killed, among them 18 foreigners, as well as six security personnel. Kenyan officials have said they believe five attackers have also died.
What we know now: There were fears that the death toll would rise when dead hostages were found, but in recent days it appears less likely the toll will rise greatly because government officials now say few bodies are there.
What remains murky: Whether any civilian bodies remain at the scene and whether body parts removed from the mall on Oct. 2 belong to victims who were already included in the 61 civilian death toll.
How many people are missing?
What was said: Lenku has said no official reports of missing persons have been filed. On Sept. 24 Lenku told a news conference that an “insignificant number” of bodies remained in the mall.
What we know now: The latest number given by the Kenyan Red Cross is that 39 people have been reported missing, though even that information is now a couple days old and the Red Cross hasn’t given any recent updates and has refused to release names or other details.
What remains murky: Whether those believed missing were at Westgate the day of the attack, and whether any of their bodies remain at the scene.
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