A stunning terrorist attack at a shopping mall in Kenya’s capital on Saturday has struck home in Canada with the death of two Canadians, including a 29-year-old diplomat who worked at the Canadian embassy.
Annemarie Desloges was off duty shopping at Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall when the attack that killed at least 59 people occurred, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Saturday night.
“That people could be gunned down in broad daylight in a shopping mall on a weekend is just a tremendous tragedy. And obviously when you have someone who is serving their country abroad, it’s quite devastating,” said Baird, who was in London, Ont. speaking at the Ontario Progressive Conservative party’s policy convention.
“When anyone is killed in a terrorist incident, it deeply affects us. But when it’s a Canadian, it hits home. And when it’s someone is government, obviously it just shakes us to the core.”
Desloges worked with Citizenship and Immigration Canada and served at Canada’s High Commission in Kenya as a liaison officer with the Canada Border Services Agency, federal officials said.
She is survived by her husband, Robert Munk, who was injured in the attack but has since been released from hospital, Baird said.
There was no immediate information on the other Canadian killed. Federal officials said they could not provide details due to privacy concerns. Baird said to the best of his knowledge, the other Canadian was not related to Desloges.
The attack only serves to steel Canada’s resolve in its fight against terrorism worldwide, Baird said.
“The fight against international terrorism is the great struggle of our generation, and we need to continue with the resolve to fight this,” he said.
“It’s a joint effort. No government can tackle this problem on its own.”
In a joint statement with Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, Baird paid tribute to Desloges and to Canadian diplomats and the risks they run.
“Like Annemarie, they do so because they believe in the cause of humanity. They believe that their work will better the lives of many at home and around the world. They believe in the values that Canada represents. We have no doubt that Annemarie touched the lives of many, and it is for that, that she will always be remembered.”
The statement added that Desloges, who had previously been posted in Delhi, had been in Kenya for two years.
NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar also issued a statement extending his condolences to the victims’ families and denouncing the attack.
Kenya’s interior Cabinet secretary said early Sunday that along with the 59 people confirmed killed, at least 175 have been wounded.
Joseph Lenku also said that about 1,000 people have been rescued so far from the mall.
In a nationally televised address on Saturday Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta disclosed that some of his close family members were among the victims.
France’s president said two French women were also killed in the attack, while the U.S. State Department said some American citizens had been injured but not killed.
The gunmen remained inside the mall with hostages nearly 24 hours after they launched the attack with grenades and assault rifles.
Lenku said 10 to 15 attackers were involved in the attack, that military and police forces had surrounded the building, and that Kenyan forces had control of the security cameras inside the mall.
As the attack began shortly after noon Saturday, the al-Qaida-linked gunmen asked the victims they had cornered if they were Muslim. Those who answered yes were free to go, several witnesses said. The non-Muslims were not.
Somalia’s Islamic extremist group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack saying it was retribution for Kenyan forces’ 2011 push into Somalia.
The mall’s ownership is Israeli, and security experts have long said the structure made an attractive terrorist target.
— with files from Maria Babbage in London, Ont., and the Associated Press