Kenyan security find an explosive after deadly hotel attack

Christopher Torchia
Associated Press
A unidentified relative is helped by Red Cross workers as she grieves after visiting the morgue in Nairobi, Kenya, Jan. 17, 2019. Extremists stormed a luxury hotel complex 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 al-Shabab.

Nairobi, Kenya – Kenyan bomb disposal experts on Thursday found and safely detonated an explosive left over from the deadly extremist attack on a Nairobi luxury hotel complex, and the Kenya Red Cross said no one appeared to be missing after it had checked nearly 100 reported cases.

The Kenyan government said its quick reaction to Tuesday’s assault on the DusitD2 complex reflected improvements in its ability to respond to such brazen assaults on civilian targets. It was “much better handled” in comparison to the 2013 attack on the nearby Westgate Mall, said Joseph Mucheru, the information minister. Police took hours to respond to that attack and official information was scarce or conflicting, leading to reforms.

“The speed, the response and the conclusion of this matter was swift,” the minister told journalists.

Al-Shabab, the al-Qaida-linked extremist group that carried out the 2013 attack that killed 67 people, also claimed responsibility for the hotel assault this week that took the lives of 20 civilians, one police officer and five attackers.

In contrast to the government’s fumbling response to the Westgate attack, the better-coordinated operation at the DusitD2 hotel was under the “central command” of the head of the paramilitary wing of the Kenyan police known as the General Service Unit, according to The Standard, a Kenyan newspaper. It also said the government did a better job of managing information and that there were “fewer implausible narratives from senior security officials than happened in 2013.”

Still, the newspaper said, there were hard questions including: “How did the assailants manage to move their weaponry through the numerous roadblocks to their hideout and to the scene of crime undetected?”

On Thursday, the Kenya Red Cross said all cases of people who were reported missing had been “closed positively.” Some family members had struggled to locate relatives, some of whom fled the DusitD2 complex without phones and other belongings.

The police tweeted that security teams were still looking for remaining explosives and urged “the public not to panic should they hear a blast since it will be a safe blast.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday declared that the security operation to retake the complex was over, around 20 hours after the attack started.

With the attack, al-Shabab showed it can still strike despite heavy pressure by U.S., Somali and African Union forces against its strongholds in neighboring Somalia.

While U.S. airstrikes have constrained al-Shabab’s ability to operate by keeping its fighters on the run, it is still capable of carrying out spectacular acts of violence in retaliation for Kenya sending troops to Somalia to fight it. The Islamic extremist group also carried out the assault on Kenya’s Garissa University in 2015 that claimed 147 lives, mostly students.

This week’s bloodshed in Kenya’s capital appeared designed to inflict maximum damage to the country’s image of stability and its tourism industry, an important source of revenue.

Mucheru, however, said he had been impressed by Kenyans who posted images highlighting wildlife and other Kenyan attractions on social media in reaction to the attack. He noted that the Nairobi stock exchange made gains on Wednesday, despite the violence.

“There’s that positivity,” he said.

U.S. ambassador Robert F. Godec said the United States is working closely with Kenyan authorities following the extremist attack in Nairobi this week. He dismissed “false reports on social media” that the U.S. knew about the attack in advance and warned Americans to stay away from the DusitD2 complex before it was attacked on Tuesday.

Of the dead, 16 were Kenyan, one was British, one was American and three were of African descent but their nationalities were not yet identified, Kenyan police said late Wednesday. Twenty-eight people were hospitalized.

A company that provides security for the DusitD2 complex confirmed that two employees had been killed. Michael Ruto of Senaca International Security Ltd. described the victims as “very good officers.”

The East African operation of LG Electronics mourned the death of an employee in the attack. It said James Radido, nicknamed Odu Cobra, had a “valuable impact” on colleagues over the past four years and described him as “a truly inspiring and genuine human being.”

In his last tweets, Radido talked about being “trapped in our buildings” at the DusitD2 complex and reported gunfire and “non-stop explosions.”

His last words on Twitter were: “Any news from out there?”