A huge blast followed by a gun battle rocked an upmarket hotel and office complex in Nairobi yesterday, causing casualties, in an attack claimed by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked islamist group. The explosion at the DusitD2 compound, which includes a 101- room hotel, restaurant and several office buildings housing local and international companies, was heard from AFP’s bureau some five kilometres away.
Al-Shabaab, which carried out an assault on a Nairobi shopping mall in 2013, claimed responsibility, according to the SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activities. The AFP photographer reportedly saw five bodies slumped over tables on a restaurant terrace in the complex, which was hit in an attack claimed by Al-Shabaab Islamists.
AFP reporters at the scene saw wounded people being evacuated, but said the full casualty toll was unknown, at least five people were killed in the attack. Simon Crump, who works in the complex, said terrified workers barricaded themselves inside their offices after “several” explosions.
“We have no idea what is happening. Gunshots are coming from multiple directions,” he said.
Crump later said the Police had begun evacuating people from the office buildings. A reporter at the scene said gunmen and security forces exchanged heavy gunfire.
“We are aware that there are armed criminals still holed up and our officers are trying to flush them out,” Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet said.
A flash and a bang
John Maingi said there had been “a flash of lights and a loud bang” at the Secret Garden Restaurant where he works.
“When I peeped outside I saw a human leg which had been cut off. We hid in the room before Police rescued us,” he said. A private security guard at the scene told AFP he had seen four “gangsters” entering the compound. “There was a bomb, there is a lot of gunfire,” whispered another man working at the compound, asking not to be named. “All Police teams have been dispatched to the scene where the incident is. As of now we are treating it as anything, including the highest attack,” Police spokesperson Charles Owino said by phone.
An AFP reporter saw a bomb disposal squad blow up a car which they said had been used by the attackers to arrive at the complex. Flames and plumes of black smoke billowed into the sky from the parking lot where several cars where ablaze. Scores of people fled the scene, some of them injured.
Meanwhile, the vast upscale Village Market shopping centre in northern Nairobi said on Twitter that it had closed temporarily as a “security precaution”. The scenes at DusitD2 were reminiscent of an attack in 2013 when gunmen stormed the city’s Westgate Shopping Mall, killing at least 67 people. That assault was also claimed by al-Shabaab.
How attack unfolded
According to Kenyan media, the attackers arrived using a car and another vehicle that advanced further in.
They forced their way into 14 Riverside Drive and forced security guards to open the gate by shooting at them. The assailants advanced and hurled explosives into vehicles at the parking lot before making their way into DusitD2 Hotel which houses offices and hotels. Kenyan security forces, including the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit and the bomb squad led by director of criminal investigations George Kinoti responded to deal with the attackers.
‘‘An attack yesterday on an upmarket suburb of Nairobi was a ‘co-ordinated’ operation that included a suicide bombing in the foyer of a luxury hotel,’’ Boinnet said in another briefing. ‘‘We can now confirm that this criminal activity commenced at about 3:00pm in a co-ordinated fashion and began at I&M Bank with an explosion that targeted three vehicles in the parking lot, and a suicide explosion in the foyer of Dusit Hotel,’’ he said.
Boinnet said ‘‘a number of guests suffered serious injuries’’, but did not give a figure for any fatalities. He said security forces had contained six of the seven floors of the hotel and were also working to secure ‘‘remaining outbuildings in the complex’’.
Gunfire was still ringing out sporadically beyond nightfall, almost six hours into the attack. He said they were aware that criminals were still hold up in the hotel and he called the events a “suspected terror attack”.
Boinnet said the national Police specialised units were on site at to engage the attackers. Reports said that on the same day in 2016, Al-Shabaab militants overran a Kenya Defence Force military camp in El Adde in Somalia killing a number of soldiers.
The US advised its citizens around the area of the attack to move to safer places or remain in places deemed to be safe. The advisory was dispatched shortly after the attack occurred.