Kenya on Thursday buried victims of a four-day mall massacre by Islamist gunmen, as police pleaded for patience while searchers combed the charred rubble of the devastated complex for dozens still missing.
Weeping mourners from multiple religions gathered for the latest funerals of the 67 victims whose bodies have so far been recovered from the wreckage of Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, a bloodbath claimed by Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab.
Interpol issued an international arrest notice at Kenya’s request for 29-year old Samantha Lewthwaite, dubbed the ‘White Widow’, a reference to her marriage to one of the suicide bombers who killed 52 people in London’s July 2005 terror attacks.
Nairobi accuses her of alleged links to the Shebab and the possession of explosives in a 2011 plot, and there has been widespread media speculation over her possible role in Nairobi’s deadly mall siege, despite no concrete evidence so far.
But the warrant may do little to temper mounting public frustration as to the fate of dozens still missing, with some taking to social media to demand answers to a raft of questions on what brought part of the building down, the fate of the missing and the status of the investigation.
Police pleaded for patience as Kenyan and international teams — including from Britain, the United States and Israel — combed the charred rubble of the devastated complex for dozens still missing.
But with around a third of the building collapsed — as though hit by an earthquake but with the risk of booby traps amongst the mangled wreckage — the work of international forensic and security experts scouring the vast complex for bodies and clues will take at least a week to complete, Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said.
President Uhuru Kenyatta announced an end to the 80-hour siege late Tuesday, with the “immense” loss of 61 civilians and six members of the security forces. Five suspected attackers were also killed, and 11 detained, officials said.
Police said the death toll was provisional, with the Kenyan Red Cross reporting Thursday that 61 people remain unaccounted for after the attack.
But it also warned of “increased public anxiety on account of missing persons” in a statement criticising “inadequate information flow”.
As well as scores of Kenyans — from ordinary workers to the president’s nephew — many of the dead were foreigners, including from Britain, Canada, China, France, the Netherlands, India, South Africa and South Korea.
Images released by the army — which has imposed a strict cordon around the crime scene — show a vast hole where the back of the building has collapsed, with tonnes of concrete now smothering where the insurgents are believed to have made their final stand, alongside possibly multiple hostages.
Thin wisps of grey smoke continued to rise from the building, with AFP reporters hearing occasional blasts, understood to be controlled detonations of possible explosives.
Across Kenya, flags flew at half mast for the second of three days of national mourning.
“We all want to know who is responsible for this brutal, cowardly and unconscionable act,” British High Commissioner Christian Turner said.
“But we now need to let the professionals do their job. This will take some time.”
Victim had just bought a present for her unborn baby
In one of many funerals held Thursday, over two thousand mourners turned out to pay their final respects to Ruhila Adatia, 31, a popular television and radio personality who was pregnant with her first child, in a joint ceremony also held for Shairoz Dossa, 44, a mother of three.
Both came from Kenya’s Ismaili Muslim community.
Fellow radio presenter Kamal Kaur was with Adatia at a children’s cooking contest on the mall’s rooftop carpark when the attackers struck, recounting the horror as the insurgents raked the screaming crowds with bullets and hurled grenades.
“I had around 30 to 35 kids with me… and when the blast went off I tried to protect them by ordering them to get down and lie on the floor… After the blast, and screaming from the kids, the shots started coming in,” Kaur told The Standard.
Kaur, who huddled against a wall as she tried to stem the pumping blood from the neck of a little boy, said she did not see how Adatia died.
But she recalled her final words, just minutes before the carnage began.
“She was telling me how she had bought something for ‘my little papa’ (her unborn baby), and I was telling her to stop buying too many things because we will have nothing else to give as a gift when it finally comes,” Kaur added. “Those were the last words I said to her.”
Somalia’s Shebab chief Ahmed Abdi Godane said the Nairobi mall carnage was a “message to Westerners” who had “backed Kenya’s invasion (of Somalia) that has spilled the blood of the Muslims for the interest of their oil companies”.
In an audio message posted on an Islamist website, Godane threatened “more bloodshed” unless Kenya withdrew its troops.
Kenya invaded southern Somalia to attack Shebab bases two years ago, and later joined the 17,700-strong African Union force deployed in Somalia.
Posted by Richard Oluseye Anthony