Monday, September 23, 2013

Kenyan troops fighting \'one or two\' gunmen in Nairobi\'s mall; 2 Americans among attackers

Kenyan special forces are still battling \"one or two\" Islamist militants holed up inside Nairobi\'s Westgate shopping mall, security sources involved in the operation said on Tuesday. The sources said the militants were located and isolated in or around a casino located on one of the upper

Sporadic gunfire and the sound of blasts could be heard coming from inside the mall at dawn, witnesses said.

A heavy burst of gunfire was heard from the Kenyan shopping mall in Nairobi where at least 62 people were killed in an attack by the Somali al Shabab group, suggesting that the complex had not yet been secured, a Reuters witness said on Tuesday.

Kenya\'s interior ministry had said early on Tuesday that its forces were \"in control\" of the mall and had freed all hostages three days after a deadly siege by Islamists, who include \"two to three Americans\" and a British woman.

He had said that all hostages trapped by the militants are believed to have been freed, Kenyan foreign minister Amina Mohamed underlined the global scope of the attack.

A government spokesman told AFP the siege, in which the attackers massacred at least 62 shoppers and staff, was close to being declared over. He said special forces combing the building were no longer encountering any resistance.

\"Our special forces are inside the building checking the rooms. We think that everyone, the hostages, have been evacuated, but we don\'t want to take any chances,\" Manoah Esipisu said.

\"The special forces call this sanitising. At the moment they have not met any resistance, but of course we are not ruling out the possibility that there are a couple of them hiding in a remote room or corner,\" he added.

\"We\'re in control of Westgate,\" the interior ministry said in a message on Twitter. Throughout the night the area around the mall was quiet, with security personnel either moving or appearing relaxed.

No details on the numbers of hostages released have been given, but 63 people were earlier recorded missing by the Red Cross, a figure thought to include hostages as well as those possibly killed.

The foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, said in an interview with the Public Broadcasting Service\'s \"NewsHour\" program that the Americans were 18 to 19 years old, of Somali or Arab origin and lived \"in Minnesota and one other place\" in the US.

Somalia\'s al Qaeda-linked al Shabab group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which began at lunchtime on Saturday. Kenyan officials say there were 10 to 15 attackers.

It had said on its Twitter feed that it has many times warned Kenya\'s government that failure to remove its forces from Somalia \"would have severe consequences.\" The group claimed that its gunmen had killed 100 people, but its assertions are often exaggerated.

\"The attack at #WestgateMall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders,\" al-Shabab said.

Another tweet said: \"For long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land, now it\'s time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land #Westgate.\"

US President Barack Obama offered US support, saying he believed Kenya - the scene of one of al Qaeda\'s first major attacks, in 1998, and a neighbour of chaotic Somalia - would continue to be a regional pillar of stability.

Kenyan security forces believed the end was in sight for the siege at the upmarket shopping mall in the capital, saying its forces were \"in control\" as the ordeal entered its fourth day.

A government official said there was no resistance from the attackers late on Monday night after a barrage of gunfire and blasts throughout the day, but that the security forces were cautious in case some attackers were hiding in the building.
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