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Deaths as terrorists hit Nairobi business hub

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An armed officer evacuates people from Dusit D2 Hotel on January 15, 2019. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG 

Suspected terrorists attacked the busy mixed-use business block, 14 Riverside, located in Nairobi’s commercial hub Westlands, leaving an unknown number of people dead and scores injured.

Police were by Tuesday evening treating the gun and grenade attack as an act of terrorism. The address hosts hospitality, media, retail and other businesses, including the high-end DusitD2 Hotel that hosts corporate and international conferences.

The address also houses the Commission on Revenue Allocation, a key government agency.

Moments after the 3.15 p.m. attack, the Somali-based terrorist group, Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility when its spokesman told Al-Jazeera that the group was “currently conducting an operation in Nairobi”.

The attack came on the third anniversary of the Battle of El-Adde during which the terrorist group attacked a Kenya Defence Forces camp in the war-torn Somalia.

Kenyan soldiers have been part of a UN-sanctioned force whose mandate is to combat the terrorist group and stabilise Somalia. The camp had close to 200 soldiers at the time of the attack. Many of them were killed.

“We regret to confirm that at approximately 3 p.m. today (yesterday) a group of armed assailants attacked the Dusit Complex in a suspected terror attack,” said Joseph Boinett, the Inspector-General of Police.

“We are aware that armed criminals are holed up in the hotel and specialists’ forces are currently flushing them out. However, we regret to inform that there have been injuries in the attack and we are in the process of confirming the number and types of injuries incurred.”

The attack also came a day after a magistrate freed one of the four suspects charged with the 2013 attack on Westgate Mall, in which 65 people were killed. On Monday, Nairobi Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi ruled that three other suspects had a case to answer over the Westgate Mall attack.

Tuesday’s 14 Riverside attack sent businesses in the neighbourhood on high alert with the high-end Kempinski Hotel remaining under lock-down as security agents manned Waiyaki Way, the main road in Westlands and a key transport artery into and out of Nairobi.

By the time the Business Daily was going to press, authorities were yet to disclose the number of casualties.

Reports indicated that one person had died in hospital while at least 25 had been admitted to various hospitals with injuries, some of them critical.

The injured were admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), the Aga Khan Hospital, MP Shah and Avenue Hospital. Last evening, Avenue and MP Shah sent out appeals for blood donations to help the injured.

Tuesday’s response to the attack was relatively swift. Within about 15 minutes after the explosion went off and gunshots rent the air, several security units including the elite Recce Squad responded by cordoning off the area.

Security officers then gained entry into some blocks and whisked survivors to safety. Many of those caught up in the attack were workers. Some reports indicated that a high-level conference was also scheduled to start at DusitD2, a luxury hotel with roots in Bangkok.

However, it was not possible to independently confirm the reports.

Security officers also detonated a car that had explosives at the scene, according to a report by the Associated Press. Several cars were also burnt as the attackers engaged security officers manning the entrance to the complex.

The Business Daily has established that some businesses operating from the complex will remain closed until a later date. The I&M Bank, while reporting that all its staff at Riverside Branch were safe, said its outlet would remain unavailable until further notice.

The commercial complex, opened in 2012 and owned by the Sanghrajka family, proprietors of Tile & Carpet Centre, has office blocks with retail spaces on the ground floor, a parking silo and a 100-room hotel on the ground floor.

It is home to multi-nationals such as Reckitt Benckiser, Amadeus Global Travel Distribution Ltd, Colgate Palmolive (EA) Limited, and Cellulant Kenya Limited. Other companies that operate within the complex — in the serene neighbourhood behind the University of Nairobi’s Chiromo Campus — Brighter Monday Limited and software group SAP.

Terrorist attacks often precipitate a decline in tourism as visitors stay away for fear of attacks.

In the past, terrorist attacks have prompted some countries, including France and the UK, to issue travel advisories to their citizens visiting Kenya or planning to do so.

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