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Kenya buries its dead amid search for bodies and clues
NAIROBI: Kenya on Thursday buried victims of a four-day mall massacre by Islamist gunmen as international forensic and security experts scanned the rubble for bodies and clues.
Weeping mourners from multiple religions gathered for the latest funerals of the 67 victims whose bodies have so far been recovered from the wreckage of Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall.
Across Kenya, flags flew at half mast for the second of three days of national mourning.
President Uhuru Kenyatta announced an end to the 80-hour bloodbath late Tuesday, with the “immense” loss of 61 civilians and six members of the security forces. Five suspected attackers were also killed, and 11 detained, officials said.
Police said the death toll was provisional, with the Kenyan Red Cross reporting 71 people missing.
In one of many funerals, over two thousand mourners turned out Thursday morning to pay their final respects to Ruhila Adatia, 31, a popular television and radio personality who was pregnant with her first child, in a joint ceremony also held for Shairoz Dossa, 44, a mother of three.
Both came from Kenya’s Ismaili Muslim community.
Shelina Manji, a friend of Adatia, said the last time they saw each other they promised to talk later.
“We never had that conversation,” she told the somber crowd, some dabbing their eyes as tears welled up.
The front page of The Standard, one of Kenya’s main daily newspapers, simply showed a red rose and the headline, “in honour of our fallen loved ones”.
Teams of volunteer counsellors and psychologists have set up several centres, including at the main morgue in Nairobi, where “anyone who was affected by the Westgate attack can obtain counselling,” they said in a statement.
Fellow radio presenter Kamal Kaur was with Adatia at a children’s cooking contest on the mall’s rooftop parking when the attackers struck, recounting the horror as the insurgents raked the screaming crowds with bullets and hurled grenades.
“I had around 30 to 35 kids with me... and when the blast went off I tried to protect them by ordering them to get down and lie on the floor... After the blast, and screaming from the kids, the shots started coming in,” Kaur told The Standard.
Kaur, who huddled against a wall as she tried to stem the pumping blood from the neck of a little boy, said she did not see how Adatia died.
But she recalled her final words, just minutes before the carnage began.
“She was telling me how she had bought something for ’my little papa’ (her unborn baby), and I was telling her to stop buying too many things because we will have nothing else to give as a gift when it finally comes,” Kaur added.
"Those were the last words I said to her.”
As Kenyans mourned, rescuers and investigators continued to search the damaged Westgate mall complex, a large section of which collapsed after heavy explosions and a fierce fire.
Thin wisps of grey smoke continued to rise from the building, apparently from where the back of the building has collapsed, with tonnes of concrete now smothering where the insurgents are believed to have made their final stand, alongside possibly multiple hostages.
Police have repeatedly called for Kenyans to be patient but many are growing frustrated, with some taking to social media to demand swift answers to a raft of questions on what brought part of the building down, the fate of the missing and the status of the investigation.
Somalia’s Shebab chief Ahmed Abdi Godane said the Nairobi mall carnage was a “message to Westerners” who had “backed Kenya’s invasion (of Somalia) that has spilled the blood of the Muslims for the interest of their oil companies”.
In an audio message posted on an Islamist website, Godane threatened “more bloodshed” unless Kenya withdrew its troops.
Kenya invaded southern Somalia to attack Shebab bases two years ago, and later joined the 17,700-strong African Union force (AMISOM) deployed in Somalia.
Workers at the mall were seen wearing face masks and some soldiers wrapped scarves around their mouths because of an overpowering stench inside the centre, once the capital’s most upmarket mall.
Investigators from Britain, the United States, Israel, Germany, Canada and Interpol are working in the site.
Kenya’s interior minister has said the search is an “elaborate process” and will take at least a week to complete.
“Among the things that are going on now are fingerprinting, DNA identification (and) ballistic examinations,” Joseph Ole Lenku told reporters on Wednesday.
Officials have called for patience.
“We would like to urge all to enable us to answer all the questions,” Kenya police has said, a statement repeated several times on social media.
“We all want answers, we all want to know who is responsible for this brutal, cowardly and unconscionable act,” British High Commissioner Christian Turner said after visiting the site on Wednesday.
“But we now need to let the professionals do their job. This will take some time.” AFP