This account of the Westgate mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya included a few bits that jumped out at me. The attack started at lunch time:
[Kenyan navy sergeant major] Musungu had run out through the vehicle exit from the basement on the far side of Westgate from the attackers. He found armed guards from a bank’s private security firm, who had abandoned an armoured car used for money collections, cowering in a corner. He shouted at them: “Why don’t you return fire?”
Officers from Nairobi police’s flying squad arrived at the scene but initially refused to enter. Meanwhile, armed volunteers from a neighbourhood watch scheme run by Kenyan-Indians in the nearby district of Parklands arrived.
Together with at least two uniformed police, Musungu and his colleague, they numbered roughly 30 and split into two groups. One team was detailed to take the ground floor, the other, led by Kenya Red Cross secretary-general Abbas Gullet, climbed the ramp to the roof-top parking. Other armed “samaritans” including Somali-Kenyan Abdul Hajji, the son of a former defence minister, Mohamed Yussuf Hajji, who had been texting his brother who was trapped inside, reached the scene soon afterwards.
The ground floor team said they saw at least two gunmen who were “walking not running”, picking their targets. Terrified shoppers ran into the cavernous supermarket pursued by the attackers who exchanged fire with Musungu’s irregular band. His friend from the diplomatic police was hit in the thigh and Musungu helped him outside. Several people were injured and Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic, who had entered the mall after the attacks began, helped to get them outside.
In some places the gunmen stopped to separate Muslims from non-Muslims. In one case, shocked by the audacity of four-year-old British boy Elliot Prior, who scolded a gunman for shooting and injuring his mother, the militant showed mercy and spared his life. In others cases, such as at the Urban Gourmet Burger restaurant — where Australian-Briton Ross Langdon and his Dutch partner Elif Yavuz died — people were slaughtered en masse.
On the roof, a British man with close-cropped hair and a background in the SAS ushered the survivors through a side entrance to the third floor Java Coffee shop, from where a fire escape led to the ground floor and safety.
At the same time, a shaven-headed man who two witnesses said was Israeli had reached Hakim and others on the second floor. The man asked Hakim if he knew how to use a weapon and offered him a handgun. “I’d never fired a gun, so I had to say no,” he said. Along with at least a dozen others, the clerk was led up one floor and out through the fire escape.
Three-and-a-half hours after the first shots were fired, Kenya’s equivalent of a Swat team, the police reconnaissance unit known as the “recce group”, arrived at the mall. Wearing black body armour and helmets, armed with machine guns and trained for hostage and siege situations, they were the best-equipped to deal with the attackers, and were able to pin them down inside Nakumatt.
The first army units also arrived, including infantry from the Embakasi base outside Nairobi and US-trained Kenyan rangers from their base in the Rift Valley. Behind the scenes a power struggle was emerging between the police chief David Kimaiyo and the army head, Julius Karangi, over whose forces would take the lead. First to move in was the recce group, followed shortly afterwards by Kenyan army (KDF) soldiers.
Now with substantial numbers of military or paramilitary personnel on site, the authorities had not yet established a clear command and control structure. With no radio communications between army and police units, KDF soldiers opened fire on what they thought was an armed suspect — but who was in fact one of the commanders of the recce group. The man died, and three police officers and one soldier were wounded in the exchange. After this all units were pulled out of the mall and for the next two hours the operation came to a standstill as heated arguments raged that went all the way to the State House and the office of Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president.
“There was a lot of politics going on,” said one soldier close to the makeshift command centre. As night fell and no nightvision equipment was available, it was decided that the police chief, Kimaiyo, would be in overall charge of the operation.
The aftermath does not point to Kenyan competence:
A day later, footage emerged of the inside of Artcaffe showing scores of empty beer and spirit bottles littering the tables and lining the bar, where only Kenyan security forces had any access during the siege.
The owners of the second floor Millionaire’s Casino — who had emptied the safe while the siege was still officially underway — returned four days later to discover that while the premises were under government control someone had attempted to shoot their way into the safe.