People pray during the funeral of Feisal Ahmed Rashid and Abdallah Mohamed Dahir who were killed in an attack on an upscale hotel compound, at the Langata Muslim cemetery, in Nairobi, Kenya, on January 16 2019. Picture: REUTERS/THOMAS MUKOYA
People pray during the funeral of Feisal Ahmed Rashid and Abdallah Mohamed Dahir who were killed in an attack on an upscale hotel compound, at the Langata Muslim cemetery, in Nairobi, Kenya, on January 16 2019. Picture: REUTERS/THOMAS MUKOYA

Nairobi — Nineteen people remain unaccounted for two days after Somali militants attacked a hotel complex in Nairobi and killed at least 21 people, the Red Cross said on Thursday, raising the possibility of a considerably higher death toll.

Al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate fighting to impose strict Islamic law, said it carried the assault on the upscale dusitD2 compound over US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Wednesday evening that a 20-hour siege had ended with security forces killing all the Somali militants who had stormed the hotel complex, driving hundreds of people into terrifying escapes.

The Red Cross, on Wednesday afternoon, put the number of those unaccounted for at 50. In a statement some hours later, it said the number of people still unaccounted for had dropped to 19.

Kenya, the East African hub for multinational companies and the UN, became a frequent target for al-Shabaab after Kenya sent troops into neighbouring Somalia in 2011 to try to create a buffer zone along its border.

In a two-page statement claiming responsibility for the attack, al-Shabaab did not spell out why it had chosen to hit Kenya over Trump’s December 2017 decision on Jerusalem. It said the attack was “a response to the witless remarks of US President, Donald Trump, and his declaration”, and that it was targeting “Western and Zionist interests worldwide in support of our Muslim families in Palestine”.

Asked about the claim, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said in a statement: “This senseless act is a stark reminder of why the US remains resolved in our fight to defeat radical Islamist terrorism.”

The bloody bodies of five attackers were broadcast across social media as Kenyatta announced the end of the siege, which echoed a 2013 al-Shabaab assault that killed 67 people in the Westgate shopping centre in the same district.

Sixteen Kenyans, including a policeman, an American survivor of the September 11 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the US, and a British development worker were among the dead in the hotel complex, Nairobi police chief Joseph Boinnet said. 

Reuters