Explosions Rock Nairobi Hotel, 1 American Among Those Killed

Jan 16, 2019
Originally published on January 16, 2019 9:10 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How did an attack unfold in Nairobi, Kenya? Gunmen assaulted an upscale hotel complex yesterday. The attack continued into today. At least 14 people are dead, including an American. NPR's Eyder Peralta has been on the scene. He's in Nairobi. Eyder, would you work us through from the beginning? How did this attack start?

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: This started yesterday afternoon our time. A number of gunmen breached this hotel with explosives, and then one of them blew himself up at the restaurant. Then the other gunmen - we still don't know how many there were - moved through the compound, shooting people. And they then made their way up the upper floors of the hotel, where there was a standoff with police that lasted up until this morning. We were still hearing gunfire this morning. And today the president said that the situation was under control.

INSKEEP: So there was a security perimeter of this hotel as there are for high-profile targets in this part of the world. And they blasted their way through that perimeter and then conducted a military-style assault up through the hotel, firing at civilians. Is that right?

PERALTA: Yeah, that's what we understand. And I mean, you know, this is a city that is, unfortunately, used to these kinds of attacks. So there are mitigators in place. There's checkpoints. In this particular hotel, there were two different barriers that they had to get through, including metal detectors, an airport-style scanner that you walk through as you come into this hotel. So today there are still a lot of unanswered questions, you know, including how the terrorists managed to get in here.

INSKEEP: Where are you as you speak with us, Eyder? And what have you been seeing?

PERALTA: I am at the morgue, where families are here, gathered. They're waiting. They're looking for answers. You know, some of them are just sitting around. They're looking inconsolable. They're crying. I saw one lady who fainted. You know, right now I'm watching a woman being consoled by two of her friends. She's just - she's crying. I spoke to Yasi Yama, (inaudible) who has two family members. And he's Somali and Muslim - two communities that always - they always get suspicion during these times. And this is - let's listen to a bit of what he told me.

YASI YAMA: I'm a Muslim and I'm Somali, but I'm suffering in their hands. My two young men died because of them.

PERALTA: What he says is, this doesn't make sense.

INSKEEP: I suppose we should explain, Eyder Peralta, al-Shabab is blamed for this attack. They're operating in Somalia. Kenya is nearby, is involved in that war. What message is al-Shabab trying to send? And how are Kenyans responding to it?

PERALTA: So al-Shabab has taken responsibility for this. And they want Kenyan forces out of Somalia. And so they've been attacked before. They attacked Westgate in 2013, which left 67 dead. And they attacked a university in 2015, which left 150 students dead.

INSKEEP: But the president of Kenya has said that the fighting will go on. That's NPR's Eyder Peralta. Thanks so much, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.