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Communities urged not to become divided following Nairobi hotel attack

A CAFOD representative in Kenya has urged communities not to become divided after Islamic extremist gunmen killed 14 people during an attack on a luxury hotel and shopping complex in Nairobi.

Catherine Ogolla, CAFOD’s country representative, described the attacks at the DusitD2 hotel complex in Nairobi as horrifying and worrying, but said that instead of becoming divided because of the attack, communities should instead work for peace and social cohesion.

“What terrorists of any type want is to divide communities and sow violence, so all peoples must stand together for peace and unity in this time of trouble, sending the message out that any form of violent terror will not succeed; will not divide the Kenyan nation,” she told The Catholic Universe.

According to Kenyan Police, the attack took place on Tuesday 15th January, just after 3pm Nairobi time, with an explosion in the car park of the hotel complex, and then a suicide bomb blast in the hotel foyer.

Ms Ogolla continued: “The Kenyan people need a sustained commitment to peace, we cannot allow these events to derail that. Most of all we know that extremism thrives on hopelessness so above all we must continue to work together to offer hope for a brighter future to all the peoples of Kenya.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people affected by this horrific attack.”

Ms Ogolla’s comments come as President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the end of the operation to secure the complex.

“All the terrorists have been eliminated,” he said.

In a televised address, Mr Kenyatta did not say how many attackers were involved.

He said more than 700 people were evacuated during the security operation and he urged Kenyans to “go back to work without fear”, saying the East African country is safe for citizens and visitors.

Hours before Mr Kenyatta spoke, sporadic gunfire could be heard from the scene after scores of people were rescued at daybreak during what police called a mopping-up exercise.

The attack involved at least four armed men who invaded the hotel and shops.

Al-Shabab – the Somalia-based extremist group that is allied to al Qaida – claimed responsibility for the carnage at the DusitD2 complex, which includes bars, restaurants, offices and banks. It is situated in Nairobi’s well-to-do Westlands neighbourhood, popular with many foreign expatriates.

Al-Shabab carried out the 2013 attack at the nearby Westgate Mall in Nairobi that killed 67 people.

The British high commissioner in Kenya said at least one British national had been killed.

London-based company Adam Smith International also said two employees were killed in the attack.

Abdalla Dahir and Feisal Ahmed were killed on the terrace of a restaurant in the complex where the company has Nairobi offices, the company said in a statement.

Some 50 staff and consultants were safely evacuated, it added.
The statement said both had been working on the Somalia Stability Fund managed by the company to “bring peace and prosperity to Somalia through more than 100 local community initiatives”.

The US state department confirmed that an American citizen was also among those killed, but did not release the victim’s identity.

Authorities sent special forces into the hotel to flush out the gunmen. Early on Wednesday, Kenya’s interior ministry said in a tweet that all buildings had been secured and there was no further threat.

However, at dawn, another explosion and gunfire was heard.

Kenya’s Citizen TV aired security camera footage that showed at least four heavily armed men in dark-coloured, paramilitary-style gear.

Kenya’s national police chief, Joseph Boinnet, said the co-ordinated 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.

Kenyan hospitals appealed for blood donations even as the number of wounded remained unclear.

Video footage from inside the hotel showed Kenyan security officers searching the building and 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 wooden panelling.

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 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 US air strikes against it under President Donald Trump.

CAFOD has been working in the region since 1962, opening a regional office in Nairobi in 1998. CAFOD works together with the local Catholic Church, aid workers and other non-Church agencies, to respond to humanitarian emergencies and longer term development needs in marginalised communities across the country.

Picture: Security forces help civilians flee the scene as cars burn behind, at the hotel complex in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday 15th January. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis).