Nairobi attack: Kenya forces 'clearing' Westgate centre

Karen Allen in Nairobi: "Kenya will never be the same again"

Kenyan officials say they are in the final stages of bringing to an end the deadly stand-off with suspected al-Shabab militants in Nairobi.

Explosions and heavy gunfire were reported earlier as soldiers stormed the Westgate shopping complex.

Three "terrorists" were killed and soldiers are continuing to comb the building floor by floor "looking for anyone left behind", officials said.

The Kenyan Red Cross has told the BBC that 63 people remain unaccounted for.

'Under control'

Analysis

A number of countries are believed to have offered assistance to the Kenyan authorities currently dealing with the siege at the Westgate Mall.

Kenya is seen as a largely pro-Western country in a strategically important continent that is facing growing instability from the threat of Islamic extremism.

Western interests in Kenya have also been targets in the past - most notably the 1998 attack on the US embassy in Nairobi carried out by al-Qaeda.

However, at present, Kenya's forces are taking the lead in the hostage crisis. If there is any involvement by foreign nations, it's likely to be in a purely advisory role. It has already been reported that Israeli "security specialists" are on the ground in Nairobi giving advice, although this has not officially been confirmed.

Even if foreign forces are giving advice or even more, the Kenyan authorities are unlikely to want to give the impression that they cannot deal with this crisis themselves.

The official death toll stands at 62 and more than 170 have been injured. There are fears the death toll will rise further.

British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said that his best estimate was that six Britons had been killed.

The Somali Islamist al-Shabab movement has said it carried out the attack in retaliation for Kenyan military operations in Somalia.

"The terrorists could be running and hiding in some stores, but all floors now are under our control," Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said.

"There is no room for escape."

He told the BBC late on Monday that the operation would continue overnight, but stressed it was in its final stages.

The minister added that "it is very unlikely that there are any hostages" left in the complex.

Flames

The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse, who is at the scene, says there is still no clear picture of what is going on inside; officials have said forces are in control of the mall but have not said if they have arrested or killed all attackers.

As night fell on Monday, flames and thick smoke continued to rise from the complex.

The Kenya Defence Forces said the fire had been started by "terrorists to distract the ongoing operation", and that the blaze was being managed by firefighters.

President Barack Obama said the US was offering its full support to the Kenyan authorities.

Kenya is one of the largest recipients of US security assistance in sub-Saharan Africa, with much of that aid focused on counter-terrorism.

President Obama says the US stands with Kenya

The BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Beale says the US is likely to have responded to the crisis by sending one of its Foreign Emergency Support Teams (Fest).

But there was no suggestion they are directly involved, our correspondent says.

The KDF said 10 bodies had been retrieved from the building in the last 24 hours. More than 200 civilians have been rescued, 65 of whom remain in hospital.

Eleven KDF soldiers were injured during the operation, it said.

Earlier, police used tear gas to disperse crowds of onlookers gathered close to the Westgate Centre.

The Interior Ministry has been issuing regular warnings for people to stay away for their own safety.

Heavy smoke rises from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi Thick black smoke started billowing from the building shortly after blasts were heard
A security officer gestures as smoke rises from Westgate Shopping Centre The Kenyan interior minister said security forces were gaining an advantage over the militants
Kenyan police officers take position during the ongoing military operation at the Westgate Shopping Centre Kenyan police officers took position around the Westgate Shopping Centre
People near Westgate run as police fire tear gas to disperse crowds Police fired tear gas to try to disperse crowds of onlookers near the centre.

Security has also been stepped up at entrance and exit points across the country, with "more than 10 individuals" arrested in relation to the attack, the ministry said.

It did not specify when or where the arrests were made, but media reports from Kenya said the suspects were detained at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Repeated threats

More than 1,000 people were inside the mall complex when the attack began on Saturday.

Dr Sunil Sachdeva, a dentist who runs a clinic inside the mall, described the scene as the attack unfolded.

Al-Shabab militia

Al-Shabab militia
  • Name means "The Youth" in Arabic
  • Controls large areas of Somalia
  • Formed as a radical offshoot of the Union of Islamic Courts in 2006
  • Include foreign jihadists
  • Has launched cross-border raids into Kenya, Uganda
  • Estimated to have 7,000 to 9,000 fighters
  • Announced merger with al-Qaeda in 2012

"There was a tent where a cookery competition for children was carrying on and there were bodies lying under there," he told the BBC.

"There's a very famous radio presenter in Kenya, she was shot. The scene was carnage and there was a guy lying right in the corner. He was cut to shreds."

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 been responding to appeals for blood donations.

Al-Shabab, 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 as part of an African Union force supporting Somali government forces.

Al-Shabab is fighting to create an Islamic state in Somalia.

Despite being pushed out of key cities in the past two years, it still remains in control of smaller towns and large swathes of the countryside.

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