Africa

Nairobi Westgate attack: 'Most hostages now rescued'

  • 23 September 2013
  • From the section Africa

Most of the people caught up in an attack on a shopping centre in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, have been rescued, defence officials have told the BBC.

Col Cyrus Oguna said only a small number remained under the control of the militants, who are thought to be from Somalia's al-Shabab movement.

Some of those rescued are dehydrated, said Col Oguna. At least 68 people have been killed.

Col Oguna expressed hope that the operation would end very soon.

He said that a large part of the building was now under the control of the security forces.

In total about 175 people have been injured, including four soldiers who were taken to hospital.

Kenyan media wearing bullet proof jackets and helmets near the Westgate mall in Nairobi on 22 September 2013
The authorities have asked journalists to exercise caution when reporting military developments because the gunmen might be monitoring the media

There are reports that the gunmen are currently holed up in a supermarket. Civilians in the complex are thought either to be held as hostages or in hiding.

As troops continue to clear the building it was possible they would come across more bodies, the said Col Aguna.

A heavy military presence remains both in and around the shopping centre.

Late on Sunday afternoon, a police helicopter and another with military camouflage swept low over the shopping centre.

Correspondents says the full extent of the attack will not be known until the military is back in control.

The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse, outside the centre, says he cannot see or hear anything that suggests a "final push" by security forces who surround the complex is going on.

Our correspondent says that there is calm at the moment alongside a feeling that the crisis cannot last much longer.

People continued to escape from the building on Sunday.

'Appalling brutality'

In a news conference on Sunday Mr Kenyatta said the country was united and strong in adversity.

"The criminals are now located in one place within the building," he said.

"With the professionals on site, we have as good a chance to neutralise the terrorists as we could hope for," he said.

He thanked those who had helped with rescue and relief efforts, and asked other countries not to issue travel advisories against visiting Kenya.

Mr Kenyatta said his nephew and the man's fiancee were among the dead.

The UK Foreign Office has confirmed that three Britons have been killed, and says the number is likely to rise.

British Prime Minister David Cameron called it "an absolutely sickening and despicable attack of appalling brutality".

US President Barack Obama called President Kenyatta on Sunday to express condolences and reiterate "US support for Kenya's efforts to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice".

The wife of an American working for the US Agency for International Development was killed, US officials said.

Prominent Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor - who was attending a literary festival in Nairobi - also died, as did a Chinese woman.

French, Dutch, South African, Indian and Canadian nationals are also among the foreigners confirmed killed, along with a dual Australian-British national.

Thousands of Kenyans have responded to appeals for blood donations.

'Non-Muslims targeted'

Al-Shabab says it carried out the attack in response to Kenyan military operations in Somalia.

The group, which is part of the al-Qaeda network, has repeatedly threatened attacks on Kenyan soil if Nairobi did not pull its troops out of Somalia.

There are about 4,000 Kenyan troops in the south of Somalia, where they have been fighting the militants since 2011.

The attack began at about 12:00 local time (09:00 GMT) on Saturday, when the militants entered the Westgate centre, throwing grenades and firing automatic weapons. A children's day was being held at the time - children are among those reported killed.

Witnesses report seeing many bodies strewn round tables of unfinished fast food - with pop music left playing in the background.

Women were reported to be among the attackers but this was unconfirmed, he said.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says a security source told him that at least one of the attackers was a woman who appeared to have a leadership role.

Some witnesses said the militants told Muslims to leave and said non-Muslims would be targeted.

Security experts are reported to have warned that the Israeli-owned complex was in danger of being subjected to a terror attack.

This is one of the worst incidents in Kenya since the attack on the US embassy in August 1998.

Kenyan soldier inside the Westgate mall (21 September)
By Sunday afternoon, the security forces had the attackers pinned down in one corner of the shopping centre, officials said
Soldiers from the Kenya Defense Force carry a wounded colleague out of the Westgate Mall
Military and police are out in force at the Westgate centre, trying to capture the gunmen
Local residents watch the siege at Nairobi's Westgate Centre (22 September)
Local residents watched from a safe distance as the siege continued for a second day
Funeral for Rehmad Mehbub, 18, killed in Nairobi attack (22 September)
Funerals have already begun taking place for some of the dead - including Rehmad Mehbub, an 18-year-old Muslim killed in crossfire between police and attackers
Local residents watch the siege at Nairobi's Westgate Centre (22 September)
Local residents watched from a safe distance as the siege continued for a second day
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