Gunmen who attacked a shopping mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi were speaking in a foreign language and were seen executing a number of shoppers, an eyewitness says.
“They were not speaking Swahili. They spoke something that seemed like Arabic or Somali, but I’m not sure as I don’t speak those languages,” the witness, who only wanted to give his first name, Jay, said after fleeing the mall.
“I saw people being executed after being asked to say something,” he said, adding he had seen 11 dead bodies inside the mall.
Masked gunmen stormed the upmarket mall on Saturday and sprayed gunfire on shoppers and staff, killing at least six, before holing themselves up in the complex with hostages.
Police were going shop-to-shop to evacuate terrified people from the Westgate, which is popular with wealthy Kenyans and expatriates and generally packed on weekends.
The attackers sprayed gunfire inside the four-storey mall, causing a huge panic before police units moved in to secure the compound’s exits and the situation evolved into a standoff.
“They have seven hostages, confirmed,” a police officer said at the scene as security forces were trying to secure a multi-screen cinema complex.
A reporter saw at least 20 people rescued from a toy shop on one of the upper floors of the mall.
Dozens of wounded, some of them bleeding children, were stretchered away from the mall.
A shop manager who managed to escape said at one point “it seemed that the shooters had taken control of all the mall”.
Shocked people could be seen running away from the Westgate centre clutching children while others crawled along walls to avoid stray bullets.
“The gunmen tried to fire at my head but missed. At least 50 people were shot. There are definitely many casualties,” mall employee Sudjar Singh said.
“I saw a young boy carried out on a shopping cart, it looked like he was about 5 or 6. It looked like he was gone, he was not moving or making any noise.”
Vehicles riddled with bullet holes were left abandoned in front of the mall as police instructed residents of the Westlands neighbourhood to stay away.
“Our officers are on the ground carrying out an evacuation of those inside as they search for the attackers who are said to be inside,” Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo said.
“We have managed to evacuate some people to safety. We urge Kenyans to avoid the area as we pursue the thugs,” Kenya’s interior ministry said on Twitter.
The Westgate mall, which opened in 2007, has restaurants, cafes, banks, a large supermarket and a cinema that attract thousands of people every day and have made it a Nairobi landmark.
It is popular with the large expatriate community living in the residential neighbourhoods around it, including with foreign staff from the United Nations, which has its third largest global centre nearby.