Kenya hotel attack may not be over as renewed gunfire heard

There are indications an attack on a Nairobi hotel may not be over. More than 12 hours after the initial explosions and gunfire, a first responder reported renewed gunfire and explosions coming from the complex.

Explosions, heavy gunfire reverberate through building in initial attack

Security forces help civilians flee the scene as cars burn behind at a hotel complex in Nairobi Tuesday. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

There are indications an attack on a hotel in Kenya's captial may not be over. More than 12 hours after the initial explosions and gunfire Tuesday, a first responder reported renewed gunfire and explosions coming from the Nairobi  complex. 

Extremists initially attacked a luxury hotel Tuesday afternoon local time, sending people fleeing in panic as explosions and heavy gunfire reverberated through the complex and black smoke rose over the scene. 

Surveillance video showed three attackers dressed in black running across the parking lot at 3:30 p.m., 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 — the Somalia-based extremist group that carried out the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi that left 67 people dead — claimed responsibility.

In this grab taken from security camera footage released to the local media, heavily armed attackers walk in the compound of a Nairobi hotel Tuesday. (Security Camera Footage/Associated Press)

"It is terrible. What I have seen is terrible. I have seen a human as I ran out, and there is what looks like minced meat all over," said one man who said he ran from the scene, Charles Njenga. He did not give details.

The co-ordinated assault began with an explosion that targeted three vehicles outside a bank, and a suicide bombing in the hotel lobby that severely wounded a number of guests, said Kenya's national police chief, Joseph Boinnet.

Cars are seen on fire at the scene of explosions and gunshots in Nairobi on Tuesday. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

About eight hours after the siege began, Interior Minister Fred Matian'i said that all of the buildings affected by the attack had been secured and that security forces were mopping up.

"I would like to reiterate that the situation is under control and the country is safe," he said.

But into the early hours of Wednesday local time, gunfire could still be heard as authorities evacuated about 150 survivors from the buildings, according to a first responder, who said a pregnant woman and the daughter of a former Kenyan politician were among them. 

Civilians who had been hiding in buildings flee under the direction of a member of security forces. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

He said many more wounded remained trapped inside.

A Kenyan police officer said at least 15 bodies had been taken to the morgue over the course of the day. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

A U.S. State Department official confirmed one of the victims was American.

Kenyan authorities have not yet announced whether the attackers are dead, detained or on the run. 

Security camera footage released to the local media showed an armed attacker walking in the notel compound. Al-Shabab, the Somalia-based extremist group, is claiming responsibility. (Security Camera Footage/Associated Press)

Families have said some people are still hiding inside the complex.

A witness who gave his name only as Ken said he saw five bodies at the hotel entrance during the attack. He said that other people were shouting for help and "when we rushed back to try to rescue them, gunshots started coming from upstairs, and we had to duck, because they were targeting us and we could see two guys shooting."

​Kenyan hospitals appealed for blood donations even as the number of wounded remained unclear.

'Quite nerve-racking'

The complex includes the DusitD2 hotel, along with bars, restaurants, banks and offices and is in a well-to-do neighborhood with large numbers of American, European and Indian expatriates.

Security forces point their weapons through a shattered door behind which an unexploded grenade lies. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

Simon Crump, an Australian who has lived in Kenya for five years, told CBC's As It Happens he didn't know if it was safe to run outside when the violence broke out, so instead he and two colleagues barricaded themselves in his office and waited for things to subside.

They couldn't see anything, because they were on the side of the building facing away from the chaos.

"You'd hear footsteps above, you'd hear other things, other people moving around in the building," said Crump.

"And it's quite nerve-racking, because you just don't know whether the noises you're hearing, whether it's people, whether it's police, whether it's terrorists, you just don't know what those noises are."

Civilians flee the scene after terrorists attacked an upscale hotel complex in Kenya's capital Tuesday, sending people fleeing in panic as explosions and heavy gunfire reverberated through the neighbourhood. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

Other survivors closer to the where the attackers rampaged reported hearing a shattering blast and saw people mowed down by gunmen as they sat at a cafe. Victims were left lying on tables, bleeding.

"We were changing our shifts, and that is when I heard a loud blast and people were screaming," said Enoch Kibet, who works as a cleaner at the cafe and managed to crawl out of a gate in the basement. "I couldn't believe I was alive. The blast was so loud and shook the whole complex."

Associated Press video from inside the hotel showed Kenyan security officers anxiously searching the building and scared workers emerging from hiding while gunfire could still be heard. Some women climbed out of windows. One man got up from the floor where he appeared to be trying to hide under a piece of wood paneling, then showed his ID badge.

As officers searched luxury fashion displays, wounded people were carried away on stretchers.

Anniversary of military base attack

Gunfire continued several minutes after the first reports as ambulances, security forces and firefighters converged on the scene. A bomb disposal unit arrived, and vehicles were cordoned off for fear they contained explosives.

Police said they blew up a car that had explosives inside. An unexploded grenade was also seen in a hallway at the complex.

Crump said gunfire could still be heard as him and his colleagues eventually evacuated.

"I don't know where those shots were coming from or who they were coming from, but as we were leaving it was definitely still much still very much active shooters around," he said.

Al-Shabaab has vowed retribution against Kenya for sending troops to Somalia since 2011. The al-Qaeda-linked group has killed hundreds of people in Kenya, which has been targeted more than any other of the six countries providing troops to an African Union force in Somalia. 

Members of security forces secure a building at the scene in Nairobi. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

The hotel complex in Nairobi's Westlands neighborhood is less than two kilometres from Westgate Mall and lies on a relatively quiet, tree-lined road in what is considered one of the most secure areas of the city. The hotel's website says it is "cocooned away from the hustle and bustle in a secure and peaceful haven."

"I've been here five years, and obviously you're aware of the security issues and the fact that hotels and corporate office blocks and shopping centres are high targets, but I think we've had a false sense of security," said Crump.

On Monday, a magistrate ruled that three men must stand trial on charges they were involved in the Westgate Mall siege. A fourth suspect was freed for lack of evidence.

The attack on Tuesday came three years to the day after al-Shabaab extremists attacked a Kenyan military base in neighbouring Somalia, killing scores of people.

With files from CBC News and Reuters