A former marine emerged as a hero of the Nairobi siege yesterday after he was credited with saving up to 100 lives.
The ex soldier was having coffee at the Westgate mall when it was attacked by Islamists on Saturday.
With a gun tucked into his waistband, he was pictured helping two women from the complex.
His story emerged as sporadic gunfire continued to ring out from inside the mall early today as Kenyan security forces battled Al Qaeda-linked terrorists into a fourth day.
Despite Kenyan police assurances that they had taken control of the building, a security expert with contacts inside the mall said at least 10 hostages were still being held by a band of attackers, possibly as many as 13.
The former soldier is said to have returned to the building on a dozen occasions, despite intense gunfire.
A friend in Nairobi said: ‘What he did was so heroic. He was having coffee with friends when it happened.
‘He went back in 12 times and saved 100 people. Imagine going back in when you knew what was going on inside.’
Sources said the soldier was in the Royal Marine and now lives in Kenyan. He cannot be named for security reasons.
The British military regularly train and operate out of Kenya, and have been involved in tracking UK citizens involved with hardline Islamists in Somalia and Yemen.
Former members work with both the UK and Kenyan governments and security firms across East Africa.
Flames and dark plumes of smoke rose Monday above the Westgate shopping complex for more than an hour after four large explosions rocked the surrounding neighborhood.
The smoke was pouring through a large skylight inside the mall’s main department and grocery store, where mattresses and other flammable goods appeared to have been set on fire, a person with knowledge of the rescue operation told The Associated Press.
The explosions were followed by volleys of gunfire as police helicopters and a military jet circled overhead, giving the neighborhood the feel of a war zone. An armored personnel carrier sat in front of the building.
By Monday evening, Kenyan security officials said they had claimed the upper hand.
Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said the evacuation of hostages had gone ‘very, very well’ and that Kenyan officials were ‘very certain’ that few if any hostages were left in the building.
But with the mall cordoned off and under heavy security it was not possible to independently verify the assertions.
Similar claims of a quick resolution were made by Kenyan officials on Sunday and the siege continued.
Authorities have also not provided any details on how many hostages were freed or how many still remain captive.
Three attackers were killed in the fighting Monday, Kenyan authorities said, and more than 10 suspects arrested. Eleven Kenyan soldiers were wounded in the running gun battles.
An Al Shabaab spokesman, Rage, said in the audio file that the attackers had been ordered to ‘take punitive action against the hostages’ if force was used to try to rescue them.
A Western security official in Nairobi who insisted on not being named to share information about the rescue operation said the only reason the siege hadn’t yet ended would be because hostages were still inside.
Westgate mall, a vast complex with multiple banks that have secure vaults and bulletproof glass partitions, as well as a casino, is difficult to take, the official said.
‘They are not made for storming,’ he said of the labyrinth of shops, restaurants and offices. ‘They’re made to be unstormable.’
The massacre began on Saturday shortly before midday local time.