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After Siege, Kenyans Left Wondering What Happened


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We are going to start the program today by going back to Kenya. After four days of terror, the president, Uhuru Kenyatta, announced yesterday that the siege in a Nairobi shopping mall had ended.


PRESIDENT UHURU KENYATTA: Our confrontation with the terrorists at the Westgate Mall left 240 casualties. I report, with great sadness, that 61 civilians lost their lives in the attack. Six security officers also made the ultimate sacrifice to defeat the criminals.

MARTIN: In a few minutes, we want to talk about concerns that this attack raises about so-called soft targets in this country and elsewhere. But first, we want to go back to Kenya and to the Associated Press reporter, Jason Straziuso, who joined us on Monday to talk about the siege. Welcome back. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

JASON STRAZIUSO: Thanks for having me again.

MARTIN: And at the time of President Kenyatta's statement, tweets were still coming from the alleged attackers saying that they still had hostages. But the government officials are saying that the siege is now over. What do you think is true based on your reporting? Is it really over?

STRAZIUSO: I think it appears to really be over, whether it was when President Kenyatta was speaking last night is an open question. There was some gunfire last night. And even this morning, there was some more gunfire. The government said that it came from their side and it was just part of their sweeping operations.

MARTIN: We've seen reports that parts of the mall collapsed, which suggests that there may have been explosives planted there or activated there. Is that true?

STRAZIUSO: There was absolutely explosives of some sort. We could hear it standing outside the mall. On Monday afternoon, there were four very large explosions right in a row, and then that's when that very large, dark plume of smoke began rising up probably in some famous photos. Pictures that have emerged since then show that the roof of an upstairs parking garage has collapsed. So it would appear that those large explosions caused those - caused that collapse. Who was behind those explosions - and it could have been either side - is maybe what's not clear right now.

MARTIN: Do we know any more about who the attackers are? There's news today that a suspect, who was carrying what seems to be a valid British passport, was arrested at the airport trying to leave the country. Do we know any more about the people behind this?

STRAZIUSO: Well, the FBI is increasing their presence on the scene, and I am sure that they're very interested in that arrest. The Kenyan security sources that we're talking to haven't really laid out those details yet. And if some of the attackers are dead, then forensics have to be done on them first.

MARTIN: And finally, Jason, what's the atmosphere now there? I understand that Kenya is in the midst of an official mourning period. Can you just describe some of what is occurring. I assume that there are funerals taking place for the victims. And what else can you tell us just about the environment there now?

STRAZIUSO: Yeah, so for all the families that were directly affected by this, certainly, these are very, very sad days and funerals are underway. Families are coming to the morgue and having to identify bodies after having made this terrible trip to go around the city to check all the hospitals to see if they could find their loved ones as a wounded person instead of as a dead person. And the other thing that I'm starting to see here is increasing questions from Kenyans about exactly what is the story here. What did happen on the inside? What did happen to these hostages? And I think that one of the really interesting things that I've seen on Twitter, over the last couple of days, has been a hashtag called we are one. Today, that hashtag is turning into, we are wondering, as in, we want to know what happened.

MARTIN: Jason Straziuso's a reporter with the Associated Press. He was kind enough to join us from his home office in Nairobi. Jason, thank you so much for speaking with us and bringing us up to date.

STRAZIUSO: Very good. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.