Relatives of Johnny Mutinda Musango, 48, weep after identifying his body at the city morgue in Nairobi on Sept. 24. Musango was one of the victims of the Westgate Mall hostage siege, which the country's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, said was under control in a televised address on Tuesday. (Jerome Delay/AP)
The death toll in the militant attack and a four-day siege at a shopping mall in Nairobi is expected to rise above 72, as Kenya marks the first of three days of national mourning.
The attack that started Saturday on Westgate Mall by Somali militant group al-Shabaab killed at least 61 civilians, six security officers and five extremists, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has said. Another 175 people were injured, including more than 60 who remain hospitalized.
"Several witnesses who have come out in the last few days have talked about seeing a number of bodies," CBC correspondent Nahlah Ayed said from just outside the mall.
"In addition, for the past few days we’ve heard from loved ones who are outside of here who have come every day looking for their loved ones and saying that they have still been unaccounted for. The Red Cross says there is at least somewhere between 50 and 60 people still unaccounted for, so it’s expected the body count will rise.”
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Government spokesman Manoah Esipisu said floors of the mall collapsed after a fire started by the al-Shabaab attackers caused structural weakness in a third-floor parking lot, which then came down onto the second floor and brought it down onto the first, or ground floor. He said there were known to be eight civilians in the rubble, which were included in the government's official death estimate. There could be several attackers also buried, he said.
At the mall Wednesday morning, gunshots could be heard. Esipisu said they were from Kenyan forces going room to room in the large Westgate Mall, firing protectively before entering unknown territory.
"During sanitization, once you take control of the place, if you go to a room where you haven't visited before, you shoot first to make sure you aren't walking into an ambush," he said. "But there hasn't been any gunfire from the terrorists for more than 36 hours."
Ayed said now that the fighting is over, it will be possible for investigators to get a better idea of how the attack was staged.
"This was something that has been in the planning for weeks and months, according to American officials, who also believe that there were foreign militants among the group," Ayed told CBC News Network. The U.S. believes the attackers had detailed maps, and perhaps a mole inside the mall that helped spirit in weapons.
The Kenyan government said Canada, the United States, Britain and Israel would be assisting in the investigation.
CBC's Derek Stoffel, also in Nairobi, said it's not clear yet what the Canadians will be doing. "We suspect they'll be involved in the forensic reconstruction of the events last Saturday to figure out what happened.”
A city morgue official said his workers were preparing to go into the building soon.
Al-Shabaab said Wednesday that foreigners were a "legitimate target" and confirmed witness accounts that gunmen let Muslims go free while killing or taking the others captive.
Mourners sang funeral dirges and traditional leaders poured libations Wednesday for beloved poet Kofi Awoonor as hundreds gathered at the airport where his body was brought home days after he was slain in the attack.
Awoonor, 78, was a literary icon in his native Ghana, and was known worldwide for his innovative style that translated the rhythms of his Ewe language into English. He also was a veteran diplomat, and top government officials and members of parliament came to the airport. - Associated Press
In an email exchange Wednesday with The Associated Press, al-Shabaab said "The Mujahideen carried out a meticulous vetting process at the mall and have taken every possible precaution to separate the Muslims from the Kuffar [disbelievers] before carrying out their attack."
Asked if the separation of Muslims from non-Muslims at the outset of the mall attack represented a change in tactics, the group insisted in an email that it "has never deliberately targeted Muslims."
"Our targets have always been disbelievers, invaders and the apostate governments officials/troops who are allied with them," it said.
Earlier Wednesday, the group had claimed the Kenyan government assault team carried out "a demolition" of the building, burying 137 hostages in rubble and covering up use of "chemical gases" — claims Kenya quickly denied.
Esipisu told The Associated Press that no chemical weapons were used, that the collapse of floors in the mall was caused by a fire set by the attackers and that the official civilian death toll remains 61.
"Al-Shabaab is known for wild allegations and there is absolutely no truth to what they're saying," he said.
In another development, a British man was arrested in Kenya following the attack, Britain's Foreign Office said.
The agency said in a statement Wednesday that British officials are ready to provide assistance to the man. Officials would not provide his name or details. He is believed to be in his 30s. Britain's Daily Mail newspaper said he was arrested Monday as he tried to board a flight from Nairobi to Turkey with a bruised face and while acting suspiciously.
Eleven other suspects have been taken into custody, and Esipisu said: "At this point the interrogations are ongoing and I can't reveal any of the details."
Al-Shabaab, whose name means "The Youth" in Arabic, first began threatening Kenya with a major attack in late 2011, after Kenya sent troops into Somalia following a spate of kidnappings of Westerners inside Kenya.
The al-Shabaab extremists stormed the mall on Saturday, throwing grenades and firing on civilians.
"You could have avoided all this and lived your lives with relative safety," the group tweeted Tuesday. "Remove your forces from our country and peace will come."The group used Twitter to say that Somalis have been suffering at the hands of Kenyan military operations in Kenya, and the mall attack was revenge.
The militants specifically targeted non-Muslims, and at least 18 foreigners were among the dead, including two Canadians, as well as citizens from France, the U.K., the Netherlands, Australia, Peru, India, Ghana, South Africa and China. Five Americans were among the wounded.
The mall attack was the deadliest attack in Kenya since the 1998 al-Qaeda truck bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, which killed more than 200 people.
Security officials in Nairobi always knew that Westgate, which was popular with foreign residents of the capital as well as tourists and wealthy Kenyans, was a likely target for attacks.