Apparent terror attack on upscale complex in Kenyan capital Nairobi

/ CBS/AP

Cars are seen on fire at the scene where explosions and gunshots were heard at the Dusit hotel compound, in Nairobi, Kenya, Jan. 15, 2019. REUTERS

Nairobi, Kenya — An upscale hotel complex in Kenya's capital came under attack on Tuesday, with a blast and heavy gunfire. Witnesses and police at the scene called it a terror attack, and the Somalia-based, al Qaeda-linked terror group al-Shabab claimed responsibility, saying fighters were still inside the hotel complex.

The complex in Nairobi's Westlands neighborhood includes a large hotel known as DusitD2, banks and offices. Several vehicles burned. People were being rushed, even carried, from the scene.

A witness told the AP he saw at least two bodies at the scene of the attack. Robert Murire said he called emergency services after seeing attackers wearing green and wrapped in ammunition moving around the area. He wasn't able to say how many attackers there were.

Gunfire continued several minutes after the first reports. Black smoke rose from the scene.

"We have sent officers to the scene, including from the anti-terrorism unit, but so far we have no more information," police spokesman Charles Owino said.

We wish to confirm that there has been an attack incident along 14 Riverside Drive. The area has since been cordoned off.

Motorists are advised to use alternative routes to facilitate smooth operations of the Police.

More information to follow.

— Kenya Police Service (@PoliceKE) January 15, 2019

Ambulances, security forces and firefighters rushed to the scene, sirens wailing. A large group of women were hurried out by security forces, one woman still in hair curlers. Other groups were hurried away as plainclothes officers went shop to shop in the complex.

What appeared to be plainclothes security forces inched their way toward the scene, guns in hand. Helicopters could be heard. Other people appeared to be taking cover behind fountains and other features in the lush outdoor complex.

The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi issued an alert and retweeted a warning from the State Department urging Americans to avoid the Westlands neighborhood where the Dusit Hotel complex is located.

#Nairobi #Kenya: There are reports of an explosion and an active shooter situation at the Dusit Hotel complex in the Westland district of Nairobi. Avoid the area, monitor local news, and follow emergency instructions.

— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) January 15, 2019

The attack immediately reminded many Kenyans of the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi in 2013, when al-Shabab extremists burst into the luxury shopping center, hurling grenades and starting a days-long siege that left 67 people dead.

The attack came three years to the day after al-Shabab extremists attacked a Kenyan military base in neighboring Somalia, killing scores of people. The al Qaeda-linked group objects to the presence of Kenyan troops in the turbulent Horn of Africa nation.

The U.S. military has maintained a steady beat of missile attacks against al-Shabab targets in Somalia, announcing the latest such airstrike just last week. The Pentagon said six militants were killed in the strike on a camp which "served as a staging area for terrorists in the region."

First published on January 15, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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