Gunmen kill 15 in Kenya hotel compound attack

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Security forces stand guard near the site of an attack at an upmarket hotel and office complex in Nairobi, Kenya, on Jan. 15, 2019. Xinhua

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Gunmen blasted their way into a hotel and office complex in the Kenyan capital, killing at least 15 people and sending workers diving under desks to escape an attack claimed by Somalia-based Islamist group al Shabaab.

More than 12 hours after the assault began at Nairobi’s upscale 14 Riverside Drive complex on Tuesday, bursts of gunfire and blasts were heard in the area, undermining government assurances everything was under control.

The shots rang out at around 3:30 am local time (0030 GMT) as a group of around 150 workers was escorted from a building where they had sought refuge. Many more remained inside and some needed first aid for gunshot wounds, a first responder told Reuters.

By 1 a.m. local time, 15 bodies had arrived at Chiromo Mortuary and more were expected, said an attendant.

Identification papers indicated that 11 were Kenyan, one was American and one was British, he said. The other two were not carrying documents.

Kenya’s Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i had said at 11 pm that all buildings at the scene had been secured and scores of people evacuated. But he did not comment on the attackers’ whereabouts and said security forces were still “mopping up”.

Nairobi is a major hub for expatriates and the compound targeted contained offices of various international companies, in an echo of a deadly 2013 assault on a Nairobi shopping center in the same neighborhood.

Kenya has often been targeted by al Shabaab, who killed 67 people at the Westgate shopping center in 2013 and nearly 150 students at Garissa University in 2015. Al Shabaab says its attacks are revenge for Kenyan troops stationed inside Somalia, which has been riven by civil war since 1991.

Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinnet said the attack began around 3 p.m. with an explosion targeting cars outside a bank followed by a detonation from a suicide bomber in the hotel lobby.

Surveillance video showed three attackers dressed in black running across the parking lot at 3:30 pm shortly followed by a fourth. At least two of the men were wearing green scarves in the close-up footage. One appeared to be wearing a green belt with grenades on it.

Al Shabaab, which wants to overthrow the weak, United Nations-backed Somali government and impose strict Islamic law, quickly said it was responsible.

“We are behind the attack in Nairobi. The operation is going on,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters by telephone in Somalia.

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