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Somali Islamist Extremists Claim Responsibility For Attack In Nairobi


In Kenya today, attackers armed with guns and explosives blasted their way into a luxury hotel and office complex in Nairobi, the capital city. Police are calling it a terror attack. Exchanges of gunfire could be heard late into the night. Authorities have not released a casualty figure, but news agencies report as many as seven dead and an unknown number wounded. Somali Islamist extremists claimed responsibility for the attack.

NPR's Eyder Peralta is in Nairobi and joins us now. Hi, Eyder.


SHAPIRO: Tell us the latest. What do we know about what happened today?

PERALTA: So a number of armed men stormed at the Dusit Hotel here in Nairobi. And police and witnesses who I've spoken to say they used explosives to get through two security checkpoints. They blew up two cars, and then one of them blew himself up at the hotel restaurant. And then they went through the hotel where they opened fire. And for hours after that attack, the military and the gunmen have been trading fire.

I'm outside the hotel, and there's family members here who are just waiting to hear some news. I spoke to Humphrey Maguna (ph), whose girlfriend was a waitress at the hotel, and he was talking to her on the phone. And he heard gunfire and commotion, and then her phone went dead. And this is what he told me.

HUMPHREY MAGUNA: I don't know whether she's there or that she's been rescued. I have no idea. So just waiting - you have to see what's next.

PERALTA: So just a little while ago, he told me that he did hear back from her. And the interior minister, Fred Matiang'i, says that the situation is under control. But just a few minutes after that, we heard more gunfire. And so people are worried that things are still going on.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about the place, the hotel-office complex for - where this is all playing out. Who would have been in there at the time of the attack?

PERALTA: It's a nice place. It's a place with a fancy deli, and it has a really nice outdoor patio. It's where people take their lunch or they come for work meetings or they have coffee. And it's usually packed during the lunch hour. And the thing about these attacks, especially here in Kenya, is that they happen in places where any one of us would find themselves. And that's why they're especially terrifying for people.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about the claim of responsibility by the Somali extremist group al-Shabab.

PERALTA: So al-Shabab says that they were conducting an operation here in Nairobi, essentially taking responsibility for this. And al-Shabab has attacked Kenya before. They did so in 2013 when they attacked the mall here, leaving 67 dead, and they attacked a college in Garissa in 2015 where it left almost 150 people dead. So al-Shabab is a constant threat. They control much of Somalia, and they target Kenya because Kenya provides many of the soldiers who fight them in Somalia.

SHAPIRO: And what's the reaction been among people in Nairobi who you're talking to today? What's the atmosphere like there?

PERALTA: There's a lot of sadness. I think people feel - you know, this is a place that constantly worries about these attacks. There's, you know, the kind of security you have to go through to get to this kind of hotel - for example, they check the back of your car. You know, you have to go through a metal detector. So in a lot of ways, this is the country that is always bracing itself for this kind of attack. But today, I just - I've heard a lot of sadness that it has happened again.

But government officials, the interior minister, Fred Matiang'i, says that Kenya will not be cowered by this attack, that Kenya will move forward.

SHAPIRO: All right, NPR's Eyder Peralta in Nairobi, Kenya. Thank you.

PERALTA: Thank you, Ari.


Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.