Nairobi, Jan 16 (AP/UNB) — Extremists stormed a luxury hotel in Kenya's capital on Tuesday, setting off thunderous explosions and gunning down people at cafe tables in an attack claimed by Africa's deadliest Islamic militant group. A police officer said at least 15 people had died.
"It is terrible. What I have seen is terrible," said Charles Njenga, who ran from a scene of blood, broken glass, burning vehicles and pillars of black smoke.
Al-Shabab — the Somalia-based group that carried out the 2013 attack at the nearby Westgate Mall in Nairobi that left 67 people dead — claimed responsibility for the carnage at the DusitD2 hotel complex, which includes bars, restaurants, offices and banks and is in a well-to-do neighborhood with many American, European and Indian expatriates.
A Kenyan police officer said 15 bodies had been taken to the morgue. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. The U.S. State Department confirmed that an American citizen was among those killed, but did not release the victim's identity. Al-Shabab asserted that 47 people were killed but its Shahada news agency post gave no details.
Authorities sent special forces into the hotel to flush out the gunmen. Late Tuesday night, about eight hours after the siege began, Interior Minister Fred Matiang'i said all of the buildings affected 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.
However, more gunfire was heard about an hour later, Kenyan broadcaster NTV reported. Some family members said they had been in touch with loved ones still hiding inside the complex, waiting to be rescued.
Early Wednesday, Kenya's interior ministry said a tweet that all buildings had been secured and there was no further threat to the public.
Authorities did not say how many attackers there were — or what happened to them — though Kenya's Citizen TV aired security-camera footage that showed at least four heavily armed men in dark-colored, paramilitary-style gear.
A police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media said bodies were seen in restaurants downstairs and in offices upstairs, but "there was no time to count the dead."
A witness who gave his name only as Ken said he saw five bodies at the hotel entrance. 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," he said.
The coordinated 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.
Survivors reported hearing a shattering blast and saw people mowed down by gunmen as they sat in a cafe. Victims were left slumped on tables.
"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 a basement gate. "I couldn't believe I was alive. The blast was so loud and shook the whole complex."
Kenyan hospitals appealed for blood donations even as the number of wounded remained unclear.
Associated Press video from inside the hotel showed Kenyan security officers searching the building and scared workers emerging from hiding while gunfire could still be heard. Some climbed out a window by ladder. 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.
As officers searched luxury fashion displays, wounded people were carried away on stretchers.
Like the attack at the Westgate Mall, this one appeared aimed at wealthy Kenyans and foreigners. It came a day after a magistrate ruled that three men must stand trial in connection with the Westgate Mall siege.
Al-Shabab has vowed retribution against Kenya for sending troops to Somalia to fight it since 2011. Tuesday's violence came three years to the day after al-Shabab extremists attacked a Kenyan military base in Somalia, killing scores of people.
The al-Qaida-linked group has killed hundreds of people in Kenya. In the deadliest attack, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for an assault on Kenya's Garissa University in 2015 that killed 147 people, mostly students.
The latest carnage demonstrated al-Shabab's continued ability to carry out spectacular acts of bloodshed despite a dramatic increase in U.S. airstrikes against it under President Donald Trump.
Tourism — an important source of revenue in Kenya, East Africa's largest economy — has suffered because of the violence.
Gunfire could be heard for hours after Tuesday's attack began. Some people ducked behind cars, screaming, while others took cover behind fountains and other features at the lush complex. A bomb disposal unit was called in, and police blew up a car they said had explosives inside. A grenade was seen in a hallway.
Dozens of people were rushed to safety as plainclothes officers went from shop to shop in the complex. Some people held up their hands to show they were unarmed.
A Kenyan intelligence official said the country had been on high alert since November, with information about potential attacks on high-profile targets in Nairobi. The official was not authorized to talk to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Despite the repeated attacks, the Kenya-Somalia border remains porous, with al-Shabab extremists able to easily bribe their way across, according to a U.N. panel of experts.
The hotel complex in Nairobi's Westlands neighborhood is about a mile (2 kilometers) from Westgate Mall on a relatively quiet, tree-lined road in what is considered one of the most secure parts of the city. The hotel's website says it is "cocooned away from the hustle and bustle in a secure and peaceful haven."
On Monday, the hotel promoted its spa by tweeting: "Is your new year off to a rough start?"
Nairobi, Jan 15 (AP/UNB) — Extremists attacked a luxury hotel in Kenya's capital Tuesday, sending people fleeing in panic as explosions and heavy gunfire reverberated through the complex and black smoke rose over the scene. A witness reported seeing at least two bodies.
Al-Shabab — the Somalia-based extremist group that carried out the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi that left 67 people dead — claimed responsibility and said its members were still fighting inside.
"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 a man who ran from the scene, Charles Njenga.
It was not clear how many attackers took part, but the bloodshed appeared to fit the pattern of attacks al-Shabbab often carries out in Somalia's capital, with an explosion followed by a group of gunmen storming the place.
Several vehicles burned, and people were rushed, some carried, from the scene. At least one was on a stretcher. Some ducked behind cars, screaming. Others appeared to take cover behind fountains and other features at the lush complex, which includes the DusitD2 hotel, along with bars, restaurants, banks and offices.
Kenya's national police chief, Joseph Boinnet, said it appeared to be a terror attack.
"We are aware that armed criminals are holing up in the hotel, and special forces are now currently flushing them out," Boinnet said. He did not confirm any deaths and or say how many were wounded.
A witness, Robert Murire, said he saw at least two bodies at the scene, along with attackers wearing green and wrapped in ammunition.
The attack came a day after 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.
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.
Security forces hurried out a large group of women, one of them still in curlers. Dozens of others were rushed to safety as plainclothes officers went shop to shop in the complex. Some people held up their hands to show they were unarmed.
Al-Shabab has vowed retribution against Kenya for sending troops to Somalia since 2011. The al-Qaida-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.
The attack immediately reminded many Kenyans of the Westgate Mall attack, when al-Shabab extremists burst into the luxury shopping center, hurling grenades and starting a days-long siege.
The hotel complex in Nairobi's Westlands neighborhood is less than 2 kilometers 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."
The attack came three years to the day after al-Shabab extremists attacked a Kenyan military base in Somalia, killing scores of people.
Kinshasa, Jan 14(AP/UNB) — Congo's neighbors are calling for a vote recount in the disputed presidential election and suggesting the formation of a government of national unity to avoid possible instability.
The statements by the southern African and Great Lakes regional blocs put new pressure on the government of outgoing President Joseph Kabila to find a peaceful and transparent solution to a growing electoral crisis in one of Africa's largest and most mineral-rich nations.
The declared presidential runner-up, Martin Fayulu, filed a court challenge over the weekend asking for a recount. He points to figures compiled by the influential Catholic Church's 40,000 election observers that found he won 61 percent of the vote.
Fayulu accuses Kabila of making a backroom deal to declare as the winner opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi, who came in a distant second according to the Catholic Church's results. Kabila is suspected of making a backroom deal to alter the results in order to protect his vast assets from Fayulu's anti-corruption efforts. Congo is a major source of the minerals central to smartphones and electric cars worldwide.
Congo's electoral commission has said Tshisekedi won 38 percent of the vote and Fayulu 34 percent. It later announced that Kabila's ruling coalition had won a majority in legislative and provincial elections, which would constrain any attempted reforms by Tshisekedi if he takes power.
The disparity in the ruling coalition's results in the presidential and other elections has raised questions in a vote also troubled by the malfunctioning of voting machines, polling stations that opened hours late and the last-minute decision to bar some 1 million voters in two communities affected by a deadly Ebola outbreak.
The Great Lakes statement issued overnight expressed "deep concern" about the various challenges to the official results, and urged Congolese authorities to be more transparent in the interest of the country's stability.
It followed a similar statement by the influential Southern African Development Community, which includes regional powers South Africa and Angola and rarely challenges countries' election results.
The statements by African groups may to have more influence with Kabila's government, which was annoyed by Western pressure over two years of turbulent election delays as many worried that Kabila was seeking a way to stay in power.
Fayulu's opposition coalition welcomed the new regional stance. "It would be dangerous not to support the democratic process," he said in a Twitter post.
Congo's 80 million people have been largely peaceful since the Dec. 30 vote but at least a dozen people have been killed in protests. Internet service, cut the day after the vote, remains off.
Abuja, Jan 12 (Xinhua/UNB) - Three people have been confirmed killed in an accident on southern Nigeria's Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the busiest inter-state route in the country, the local road safety police said on Saturday.
A passenger bus somersaulted many times along the 127 km expressway, causing 11 others to sustain varying degrees of injury on Friday.
Clement Oladele, a sector commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in the country's southwest region, told reporters that the somersault was preceded by excessive speed, a tyre burst, and the bus driver's subsequent loss of control.
The official said the injured victims were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, adding the remains of the dead victims were also deposited at a government-owned morgue.
The Lagos-Ibadan expressway connecting Ibadan, the capital of Nigeria's southwestern state of Oyo and the commercial hub Lagos, is also the major route to the northern, southern and eastern parts of Nigeria.
Cairo, Jan 12 (AP/UNB) — As violent anti-government protests enter their fourth week, Sudan appears headed toward political paralysis, with drawn-out unrest across much of the country and a fractured opposition without a clear idea of what to do if their wish to see the country's leader of 29 years go comes true.
Even for a country that looks unwieldy when its's not tearing itself apart, President Omar al-Bashir's years at the helm have turned Sudan into a cautionary tale — from genocide and bloody rebellions to ethnic cleansing, starvation and rampant corruption.
But Sudan has been hard to rule way before al-Bashir seized power in a 1989 military coup. Protest leaders say a whole new start is needed if the country is to stand any chance of progressing.
"There may be very few people out there who still support this regime, the way it governed or its use of an Islamic narrative," said Othman Mirghani, a prominent Sudanese analyst. "The conclusion reached by the people is that this regime must be brought down and the search start for a modern Sudanese state based on contemporary values."
Here is a look at where things stand after more than three weeks of protests, which claimed at least 40 lives.
POLITICS VS. MILITARY RULE
The military and democratically elected governments have taken turns ruling Sudan since independence in 1956, with coups bringing the generals to power, only to be brought down eventually by popular uprisings. The only exception was in 1986 when the army honored its promise to hand over the reins to an elected government a year after it seized power.
The military has been the dominant force in Sudan since independence and, analysts and activists say. Al-Bashir hails from the military, but he has sidelined the army as the country's main fighting force, replacing it with loyal paramilitary forces he created.
That has frustrated middle and lower ranking officers, in large part because the state's largesse has gone to the paramilitary forces and security agencies, not them.
Since the current protests began Dec. 19, the military twice stated its support for the country's "leadership" and pledged to protect the people's "achievements." Neither time did it mention al-Bashir by name.
Army troops have deployed to protect vital state installations but have not tried to stop protests and, in some cases, appeared to offer a measure of protection for the demonstrators.
All that raises the possibility the military could take over again and remove al-Bashir. But many fear the Sudan Rapid Forces, a 70,000-strong, well-armed paramilitary force of tribesmen allied with al-Bashir, could respond by stepping in, whether to protect the president or install someone of their own.
Curiously, the 74-year-old al-Bashir said Tuesday he would not mind if he is replaced by someone from the military.
Egyptian Sudan expert Hany Raslan said that "in any normal country, al-Bashir's comments would have been interpreted as part of a transfer of power, but that is Sudan and he is most likely just trying to curry favor with the military."
If Sudan's stretches of military rule brought suppression of freedoms and human rights violations, its brief democratic spells — 1956-1958, 1964-1969 and 1986-1989 — were defined by their ineffectiveness. Traditional parties like the Umma and Democratic Union governed, but their failure to build a modern state and put the economy on solid footing paved the way for the next military takeover.
AL-BASHIR'S ISLAMIC MODEL
Al-Bashir seized power with the backing of the military and Islamists, who then formed the bedrock of his rule. For the past three decades, his National Congress Party — dominated by hardline Islamists — has had a lock on government and dominated the economy.
The leadership has styled itself as bringing Islamic rule by Shariah to Sudan and styled its past wars as "jihad," whether against southerners or against insurgents in the western Darfur region. Al-Bashir often denounces "secularists" as Sudan's worst enemies and touts his long rule as proof of God's support.
Critics, however, say the Islamist ideology has largely become a veneer for a political machine that allows al-Bashir's relatives, loyalists, politicians and businessmen to amass wealth by their links to the government.
"It is not an Islamic experiment, it is an experiment that uses religious slogans as a cover for practices that have nothing to do with Islam," said Mirghani, the Sudanese analyst.
But even if al-Bashir goes, his cadres and other loyalists will still have considerable power and are likely to resist major change, backed by a religious rhetoric that can still rally some in the population to their side.
When past popular uprisings succeeded, the elected governments that followed were chiefly built around the Umma and Democratic Union parties.
These two traditional parties are now weak and fractured. Moreover, their political discourse is also immersed in religion, something which does not resonate with many in the new generation of mainly young street activists loyal to liberal parties and professional unions or those acting independently.
"It will be a misguided step if we publicly describe ourselves as liberals or secularists, but what we are looking for is policies that are essentially liberal while not blatantly contrary to Islamic teachings," said a 26-year-old protester. "We need a government of technocrats. We are done with the traditional parties," she said, speaking on condition she not be named for fear of reprisals.
The activists and analysts say the weakness of opposition groups is a direct product of al-Bashir's divide-and-rule tactics, constantly luring senior politicians away from their parties with lofty promises of national unity and a shot at positions that they can abuse for personal gain.
The protesters often chant "freedom, peace and justice" and "the people want to bring down the regime" — the latter the chief slogan of the Arab Spring revolts of 2011. But there isn't a clear path for reaching their ambitions.
"There is no doubt that there will be big changes as a result of these protests, but they will never be of the magnitude that Sudan needs," said another activist, who also did not want to be named.
"Al-Bashir could resign or be removed by the army, but the Islamists have the power to reorganize and regain power," she said.