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Kenya attack: Final stages of assault as forces kill militants amid continued battle

Six Britons among 62 confirmed dead

By Daniel Howden and Adam Withnall

A column of black smoke rose from the roof of Nairobi's Westgate mall after a series of massive blasts rocked the scene of a three-day hostage siege in the Kenyan capital as six Britons were confirmed among those killed.

While the battle to secure the shopping centre is ongoing, the Kenyan authorities said three terrorists have now been killed and CNN reported four had been arrested.

A security official at the scene said the military were now tackling just six or seven militants, and Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku has said his forces are “in control of all floors” of the five-storey mall.

The Kenyan Defence Forces reported that 11 of its soldiers had been injured in today's operation, and said 10 more bodies had been retrieved from the building in the past 24 hours.

In posts on Twitter, the authorities also said that 10 people have been arrested in relation to the Westgate incident, with some of those expected to be at airports and borders across the country which have stepped up security efforts to find anyone involved.

Shortly after midday local time today Kenyan soldiers in full combat gear flooded the streets around the upmarket shopping centre which has been occupied by the Islamist militants since Saturday lunchtime.

After four large blasts rocked the mall, Mr Lenku then said that two of the militants died from “our morning activities”.

Repeated attempts to rescue the remaining hostages are expected to go on into the night, despite officials saying there are “very few left” and that the battle was in its closing stages.

It was unclear at the time whether the explosions were the work of militants holed up inside the mall or whether they came from security services trying to blast their way in. One eye witness reported seeing Kenyan forces firing rocket propelled grenades into Westgate.

Large crowds of curious onlookers who have gathered at dawn each day to watch the drama unfold were driven back violently by Kenyan police who fired warning shots into the air and used volleys of tear gas. As gunshots rang out around the mall during the military operation, panicked crowds scattered and a handful of angry stone throwers confronted police just a few streets away.

Authorities called this morning's efforts a “final assault”, and following the most intense stage of the operation yet the Kenyan Police's official Twitter feed reported it had made gains, saying: “Thumbs up to our multi-agency team, we have just managed to rescue some hostages. We're increasingly gaining advantage of the attackers.”

Speaking at a press conference, Mr Lenku said his office believed the black smoke currently visible was caused by the militants burning mattresses.

Mr Lenku also said that all the terrorists were men, although some were dressed as women.

Heavy, sustained gunfire began as dawn broke this morning at the shopping centre, accompanied by at least two large explosions.

Commando teams were seen entering the huge four-storey building at around twilight on Sunday to begin attempts to end the siege, which the Kenyan Red Cross said has now claimed the lives of at least 62 people.

The ministry's own official toll has fluctuated today, but currently also stands at 62, with at least 175 people injured.

And the Red Cross said its earlier tally of 69 was inaccurate, with bodies counted more than once as they were moved from morgue to morgue.

The dead include four Britons, according to the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

One of those victims was named this morning as British-Australian architect Ross Langdon, who died alongside his pregnant wife Elif Yavuz.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was cutting short a trip to Balmoral to return to Downing Street and chair a meeting of COBRA, the Government’s crisis response committee.

Mr Cameron offered “every assistance” in a call to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose nephew was killed in the attack, and it is reported that British anti-terror units are in Nairobi helping on the peripheries of the rescue operation.

Judges at the International Criminal Court have also responded quickly to the ongoing situation, adjourning the case of Kenyan deputy president William Ruto for one week so that he can return home to provide assistance. He stands charged of crimes against humanity in relation to violence after the 2007 elections.

Military helicopters have circled the commercial district of Westlands all day, where building sites and new office blocks have in recent years sprung up among the flower stalls and squatter camps. A roof landing was attempted. Soon after, the National Disaster Operation Centre posted the following message on Twitter: “Godspeed to our guys in the Westgate building. Major engagement ongoing. Sporadic gunfire.”

Ambulances were seen leaving the scene about two hours after a loud blast emanated at sunset from the siege which could be heard more than a kilometre away. Trucks partially covered with blankets were reported on one exit road, raising fears that more fatalities have been suffered during attempts to overwhelm the militants.

The cosmopolitan nature of the attackers’ target was reflected in the international death toll. The mall was frequented by UN staff from the nearby headquarters in Gigiri, as well as the wealthy local élite, foreign diplomats and expat workers. Among the dead were French, Canadian, Dutch, Indian, Ghanaian, American and Chinese citizens.

A Twitter account, linked to al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the attack, posted the names of 10 people it said were among the attackers inside the shopping centre. The list included three Americans, one Finn and a 24-year-old from London

GN31017W.jpg
September 23, 2013 -- An internal power struggle within Somali Islamists al-Shabaab – signalling a possible fracture along clan lines – and recent advances by government and African Union forces, may have led to the attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Graphic shows areas of Somalia now remaining under Islamist control and ousted leadership of al-Shabaab.

The account was subsequently suspended, and a while a Foreign Office source said they “could not rule out” the claims, others questioned the veracity of the social media profile.

Nonetheless, today Kenya's Chief of Defence Forces General Julius Karangi said: “We have an idea who this people are and they are clearly a multinational collection from all over the world.”

The Somali Islamist group posted on Saturday: “The attack at #WestgateMall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders.” It continued: “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.” The account was suspended soon after.

 

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