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5 things to know about Day 1 of Nairobi mall siege

September 26, 2013
Associated Press

Five things to know about the first day of the siege of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya:

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DID AL-SHABAB MILITANTS TARGET NON-MUSLIMS?

Al-Shabab, the Somalia-based militant group that stormed the mall Saturday, said it had a "meticulous vetting process" so that Muslims would not be targeted in the attack. Witnesses saw gunmen freeing people in conservative Islamic dress and they also quizzed some inside the mall to see if they were true Muslims. However, far more witnesses described scenes of gunmen spraying blindly into crowds, and there are many reports of dead and injured Muslims.

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DID MUSLIMS INSIDE THE MALL TRY TO HELP NON-MUSLIMS?

Yes. As word spread through mobile phone text messages that the gunmen were asking people about their knowledge of Islam, Muslims quickly tutored non-Muslims. Some, for instance, gave whispered lessons in how to recite the Shahada, a short Arabic-language Islamic creed.

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WHAT WEAPONS DID THE GUNMEN CARRY?

Witnesses saw militants carrying AK-47 and G3 assault rifles, both common in the region's armies and easy to obtain on the black market. The fighters also had grenades. Some gunmen also wore belts of heavy-caliber bullets, and witnesses described hearing the distinctive, rapid-fire blasts of machine guns more often found mounted on military vehicles. Such weapons are difficult to obtain and exceedingly powerful, and could explain how the militants held off Kenyan forces for four days.

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WHERE DID PEOPLE HIDE?

Wherever they could. One man described hiding in a shallow flower bed near a driveway. Some hid in crawl spaces or bathrooms. Some crouched, terrified, in plain sight. They were killed or injured. But some were simply overlooked.

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HOW MANY PEOPLE DIED?

It is still not known. Officially, there have been 67 counted fatalities, but there are numerous reports of dozens still missing, perhaps more than 100. While authorities now have full control of the mall, the top-floor parking lot collapsed through the two-story grocery store below it, leaving a gaping pile of rubble. It is not clear how many bodies are in the rubble.

 
 

 

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