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Al-Shabaab say they are "holding out" in Westgate

24 September 2013, 12:34

Nairobi - Al Shabaab said on Tuesday there were "countless dead bodies" in the Westgate shopping mall as security forces searched for militants still holed up in the complex after a weekend attack that authorities say killed 62 people.

The attackers are believed to include Americans and possibly a British woman who may be the widow of a suicide bomber who took part in an attack in London in 2005. Al-Shabaab in Somalia rejected suggestions that foreigners were involved.

A burst of gunfire in the early morning broke hours of calm on the fourth day since the militants stormed into the mall in Nairobi during a busy Saturday lunchtime, spraying bullets and lobbing grenades.

Helicopters buzzed over the complex, which is popular with foreigners and prosperous Kenyans. Al-Shabaab says it launched the attack in pursuit of demands that Kenya withdraw troops from Somalia, where they have battled the Islamist group. President Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed to stay the course there.

"There are still gunmen in the building," said an intelligence officer, who asked not to be named, speaking in the morning near the mall, which is surrounded by troops. Asked if there were still hostages, he said: "We are not sure yet."

Al-Shabaab said its militants were still holding out in the Westgate centre and hostages they were holding were still alive.

"There are countless number of dead bodies still scattered inside the mall, and the Mujahideen (fighters) are still holding their ground #Westgate," the group said on its Twitter feed.

"The hostages who were being held by the Mujahideen inside #Westgate are still alive, looking quite disconcerted but, nevertheless, alive."

It described its fighters as "unruffled and strolling around the mall in such sangfroid manner".

The military said its forces were carrying out "mop up operations" in the building.

The Interior Ministry earlier said security forces were in control of the mall and that all the hostages had been released.

A trickle of survivors left on Monday, but the fate of those still missing was unclear. It was also unclear how many of the militants had been killed or captured.

The government said on Monday three had died and a television report on Tuesday said "six of the remaining attackers" were killed. There has been no clear official tally.

Images from closed-circuit television inside the mall during the attack, published in a newspaper on Tuesday, showed two militants, casually dressed and wearing ammunition belts. One held an assault rifle.

Via its Twitter account, al-Shabaab confirmed that the two men were part of the group that attacked Westgate.

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed told the U.S. PBS Newshour television show that "two or three Americans" and a British woman were among the militants.

She said the Americans were "young men, about between maybe 18 and 19" years old. She said they were of Somali or Arab origin and had lived in "in Minnesota and one other place".

Al Shabaab, which said it been in communication with its members in the mall, dismissed the minister's comments.

"Those who describe the attackers as Americans and British are people who do not know what is going on in Westgate building," al Shabaab's media office told Reuters.

Officials have tried to reassure the country that they are in command of the situation saying there would be a news briefing on the situation later on Tuesday.

"We continue to appeal for calm, keep vigil and avoid Westgate area," the Ministry of Interior said on its Twitter account.

- Reuters


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