Events during the final one hour when 14 commandos killed four terrorists at dawn Wednesday, ending a 12-hour terror drama at the 14 Riverside complex, have been revealed.
This followed a drawn-out crisis that started when the terrorists took over the upscale complex at 3pm on Tuesday. By 3am the following day, the special forces had combed through six floors before trapping the attackers.
Backed by remote-controlled surveillance equipment that was used to map out the floors the attackers were suspected to be holed up, the commandos finally established that the killers were on the seventh floor.
At this point, the two commando units with seven members each, were on the third floor and were solely relying on a robot that had gone up to the sixth floor and located the militants on the upper floor based on electronic signals.
Swiftly, one team ran up the stairs and locked the exit leading to the sixth floor. They held their positions on the fifth floor.
All this time the commandos had switched off the power supply to the entire building to disable the lifts.
The second team of seven sharpshooters used ropes to scale the sides of the building and accessed the seventh floor through a window.
Their entry forced the terrorists, who were at one far end, to try retreating to the sixth floor, but they realised the door leading to the staircase had been locked.
The terrorists were now sitting ducks
At the same time, members of the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC), who were monitoring developments from Harambee House, were updated on what had just transpired.
The committee sought to know whether all the terrorists had been cornered.
After being informed of the killers’ whereabouts, the NSAC advised that all the people who had been trapped in the adjacent blocks be freed.
“It was dark and we knew the floor where they were trapped was up there. We moved to the other blocks and managed to free 174 people who had been trapped for close to 12 hours,” said an official.
The team felt that waiting until morning to mount a rescue operation would endanger the lives of those who were trapped because the terrorists would see their movements and strike.
After freeing all the people, a decision was made to make a final push and target where the gang was hiding.
Interestingly, some of the terrorists were communicating with people in Kiambu and Somalia. It is believed their commander was the one talking with Shabaab militants across the border.
He even sent images of victims of the attack to unidentified people in Somalia. He had also talked to a man in Ruaka at the beginning of the attack.
An idea to jam communication at the complex was floated, but some commanders rejected it.
“We felt that by blocking communication we would cause panic among those trapped therein and who were in touch with their loved ones. This idea was defeated and the jammer removed from the scene,” said another official.
At about 4 am, a decision was made to storm the room where the four terrorists were. They had been trapped for some time and the commandos were confident that they were worn out.
The team that was on the seventh floor was in constant communication with their colleagues on the fifth floor. This first team charged first, blowing up the entrance to the sixth floor and into a room where the killers holed
Those at the front held up bulletproof shields as their colleagues sprayed the room with high calibre assault rifles.
In a matter of seconds, the four assailants had been killed. But they had tossed grenades at the officers, which bounced off the shields and back to them. When the grenades exploded, they injured two commandos in the legs.
The injured officers were picked up by their colleagues and are in stable condition in hospital.
The team, through their site commander General Service Unit Commandant Douglas Kanja, reported that the mission was complete.
They allowed other teams to walk through the floors and check for abandoned explosives. Yesterday, one grenade was recovered and taken away for safe detonation.
It also emerged that the decision to deploy the special forces from Recce Squad was made during the initial moments of the attack.
After learning that there were gunshots at the complex, Deputy Inspector General of Police Edward Njoroge was asked to mobilise and put on standby a team to respond to the scene. The initial report and belief was that the attack was a robbery targeting a bank.
But after locals heard huge blasts emanating from the complex, they made calls and sent photos that showed smoke billowing from the complex.
That was when the Recce team was dispatched from Ruiru. Earlier, State House had sent personnel from the presidential guard to provide backup to officers who were first to arrive at the scene. One member of the team was shot and killed by the terrorists.
The response was swift, with Mr Njoroge and Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti taking charge of the operation and Kanja overseeing the active evacuation.
Teams from the US, UK and other foreign embassies joined the battle, also providing crucial logistical support.
They helped free dozens of trapped people even as they pushed the terrorists to the upper floors. CCTV footage showed a suicide bomber had walked to the front of the restaurant and detonated his vest, causing confusion. It is not clear how he passed through a security check at the main entrance without the explosive on him being detected.
The terrorist walked and stood in front of Secret Garden restaurant for almost a minute as he tried to detonate his suicide vest. At least two people, including a cook, walked past him. The cook seemed curious about the man’s intentions but walked past him just before he blew himself up.
This marked the beginning of the attack, forcing the building’s occupants to seek escape routes. They were, however, forced to retreat into the building as they came under fire by the gunmen who were then walking away from the main entrance.
A witness, Faith Chepchirchir, said people were trying to run towards the gate after the blast went off, but they turn back.
“I saw everyone who was running towards the gate heading back in the opposite direction. We then closed the doors as bullets were sprayed all over.”
She said the gunmen went to the hotel and took an upper floor, from where they started firing down.
Many civilians remained holed up in the complex for several hours, hiding from the attackers in bathrooms, under tables and chairs, before they were rescued.
Do not miss out on the latest news. Join the Standard Digital Telegram channel HERE.