Sunday, December 8, 2013
By Jason Straziuso and Tom Odula / The Associated Press
NAIROBI, Kenya — Islamic militants who staged a deadly attack on a Kenya mall said Tuesday hostages are still alive and fighters are "still holding their ground," as Nairobi's city morgue braced for the arrival of a large number of bodies of people killed, an official said.
A Kenya Army helicopter flies behind a plume of black smoke billowing from the Westgate Mall, following large explosions and heavy gunfire, in Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Four large blasts rocked Kenya's Westgate Mall on Monday, sending large plumes of smoke over an upscale suburb as Kenyan military forces sought to rescue an unknown number of hostages held by al-Qaida-linked militants. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Heavy smoke rises from the Westgate Mall after a series of explosions, in Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday.
The Kenyan Red Cross has confirmed at least 62 people have been killed, but spokesman Abbas Gullet said it was still not known how many more may be dead inside the building.
"It is certainly known that there are more casualties," he said.
A government official told The Associated Press that the morgue was preparing for up to 60 bodies, though the official didn't know an exact count. The government official insisted on anonymity so he would not face retribution from government officials.
Kenyan forces have been battling the militants for four days and police said in a tweet: "Troops now in mop up operations in the building."
The police urged people to ignore "enemy... propaganda" and assured that the defense forces were continuing to "neutralize" the terrorist threat.
In a new Twitter feed established Tuesday after previous ones were cut off, the al-Qaida-linked rebel group al-Shabab said the attack that began Saturday was "far greater than how the Kenyans perceive it."
"There are countless number of dead bodies still scattered inside the mall, and the mujahideen are still holding their ground," the group claimed.
It added that the hostages are "still alive looking quite disconcerted but, nevertheless, alive."
A city resident whose brother is taking part in the military operation inside the mall told The Associated Press that there were many dead bodies in the mall, and a government official said city morgue employees were told to prepare for many bodies.
Both the government official and the Nairobi resident insisted their names not be used so they would not face retribution from government officials.
A U.S. Embassy vehicle, identifiable by its numbered diplomatic license plate, arrived at the morgue on Tuesday. American officials have not confirmed the deaths of any U.S. citizens in the mall attack, but it appeared possible the Americans who visited the morgue — likely security officials with an agency like the FBI — could have been seeking information about one of the bodies inside.
Al-Shabab, whose name means "The Youth" in Arabic, said the mall attack was in retribution for Kenyan forces' 2011 push into neighboring Somalia. African Union forces pushed the al-Qaida-affiliated group out of Somalia's capital in 2011.
"You could have avoided all this and lived your lives with relative safety," the group Tweeted Tuesday. "Remove your forces from our country and peace will come."
After four days, authorities now say they are involved in a final push to clear out the remaining attackers. But authorities have before referred to their operations as final. And despite the Kenyan government assurances of success, an explosion and gunfire could be heard coming from the mall at around 6:30 a.m., followed by the sustained chatter of automatic weapons for about a minute almost three hours later, according to Associated Press reporters at the scene.
More shots were heard about noontime, followed by two explosions a short time later, and a plane and helicopter circled over the mall.
Security forces carried a body out of the mall, which remained on fire, with flames and smoke visible. A Kenyan soldier wearing bomb disposal protective gear also exited the building.
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click image to enlarge
Kenya security personnel take cover outside the Westgate Mall after shooting started inside the mall early Monday morning. Kenya's military launched a major operation at the upscale Nairobi mall and said it had rescued "most" of the hostages being held captive by al-Qaida-linked militants during the standoff that killed at least 68 people and injured 175.