Nairobi - At least five people were killed when gunmen burst into a shopping mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on Saturday and opened fire, witnesses said.
Police helicopters circled overhead as armed police shouted “get out, get out”, and scores of shoppers fled the building. Smoke poured out of one entrance and witnesses said they heard grenade blasts.
Others said they saw about five armed assailants storm the Westgate shopping mall and that the incident appeared to be an attack rather than an armed robbery.
The Somali militant group al Shabaab has previously threatened to strike the Westgate mall that is popular with the city's expatriate community. It would have been packed on a Saturday morning.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the incident.
“They don't seem like thugs, this is not a robbery incident,” said Yukeh Mannasseh who was on the mall's top floor when the shooting started. “It seems like an attack. The guards who saw them said they were shooting indiscriminately.”
One eyewitness who identified himself as Taha said he heard the screech of brakes followed moments later by an explosion and then sustained gun fire from the ground floor.
Sporadic gun shots could be heard almost two hours after the shooting started as police combed the building.
At least two dozen wounded were wheeled out on stretchers and shopping trolleys. Many of the victims had multiple light wounds, apparently from flying debris. Other walked out, some with bloodied clothing wrapped around wounds.
“I personally touched the eyes of four people and they were dead. One of them was a child,” said one former British soldier at the scene.
“It's carnage up there.”
Asked if the attack was a robbery, one paramilitary officer said: “No, terrorist”. There has, though, been no official statement from the police regarding the attackers' motive.
Police cordoned off the roads surrounding the mall in central Nairobi's Westlands neighbourhood.
Satpal Singh, who was in another cafe on the mall's top floor said he ran downstairs when he heard the gunfire and was shot at near the mall's main exit.
“A Somali guy shot at me. The guy who shot me was carrying a rifle, an AK-47,” 36-year-old Singh said.
There was no immediate reaction from Somalia's al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group. - Reuters