Nairobi – Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Sunday ruled out withdrawing soldiers from Somalia to refute pressure from Al-Shabaab gunmen, who launched a deadly attack the previous day on a popular mall in retaliation for the Kenyan intervention.
Addressing a joint news conference by opposition leaders in Nairobi, Kenyatta said Kenya will not relent in its resolve to fight global terrorism after the insurgents claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attacks.
“We went as nation to Somalia to fight the war against terror unleashed on Kenyan people, Somali people and people around the world. This is not a Kenyan war, this is an international war,” Kenyatta told journalist flanked by ex-prime minister Raila Odinga and former deputy premier Musalia Mudavadi.
“We call on people of goodwill to join us, this has increased our commitment to fight and win this war. We need to work together to fight the terrorist battle,” he said.
“They shall not get away with their despicable, beastly acts. Like the cowardly perpetrators now cornered in the building, we will punish the masterminds swiftly and painfully,” the president declared.
The remarks were made in response to an Al-Shabaab spokesman, who said in an audio message, “Either leave our country or live with constant attacks.”
Al-Shabaab in Twitter account said it had warned there would be consequences when Kenyan soldiers entered southern Somalia to fight the militants. The group used the hashtag #Westgate, saying it was a revenge attack.
But Kenyatta dismissed the threat, saying their days were numbered. “This is one attempt that has succeeded. There have been numerous threats which have been neutralized in the past,” he said.
He confirmed there are 10 to 15 armed terrorists inside the building as well as many unarmed, badly shaken, innocent civilians.
“We have reports of women as well as male attackers. We cannot confirm details on this. Our security analysts are looking at that. Our multi-agency response unit has had to delicately balance the pressure to contain the criminals with the need to keep our people still held in the building safe,” Kenyatta said.
A group of Al-Shabaab suspects launched an attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi on Saturday, killing at least 59 people and wounding 175 others.
Between 30-50 people are still unaccounted for as 10 to 15 gunmen are still holding hostages in the building in tense standoff with Kenyan security forces. Kenyatta said he has received calls from world leaders offering their words of comfort and solidarity as well as numerous offers of assistance from friendly countries, which are under evaluation.
“For the time being, however, this remains an operation of the Kenya security agencies. I thank all our international friends who have reached out to us and stood with us,” he said, urging Kenyans to remain calm and vigilant.