Kenya forces say mall siege in final stages

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Aljazeera – Officials say it has freed all hostages from Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, but al-Shabab gunmen are still inside.

A loud burst of gunfire was reported to have been heard coming from inside the Westgate mall, where police are carrying out a final sweep of the shops after the last of the hostages had been rescued.

Kenyan special forces are still battling “one or two” al-Shabab fighters holed up inside Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, security sources involved in the operation said on Tuesday.

An overnight silence outside the mall was broken at daybreak, following a loud burst of sporadic gunfire, suggesting that the complex had not yet been secured.

The sources said the fighters were located and isolated on one of the upper floors of the complex.

Kenyan forces are defusing explosive devices set up suspected al-Shabab rebels inside a still ongoing shopping mall siege, police said.

“We are doing clean-up of explosives that had been set up by the terrorists,” Kenyan police said in a message on Twitter.

Kenya said its security forces had taken control of the Nairobi shopping mall where al-Shabab fighters killed dozens of people, and that police were doing a final sweep of shops early on Tuesday after the last of the hostages had been rescued.

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

A trickle of survivors escaped the building throughout the day on Monday, but the fate of people listed as missing was unclear.

Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked al Shabab group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which began midday on Saturday. Kenyan officials say there were 10 to 15 attackers.

Kenyan security forces believed the end was in sight for the siege at the upmarket shopping mall in the capital, saying its forces were “in control” as the ordeal entered its fourth day.

A government official said there was no resistance from the attackers late on Monday night after a barrage of gunfire and blasts throughout the day, but that the security forces were cautious in case some attackers were hiding in the building.

Al-Shabab ‘not acting alone’

A government spokesman told AFP news agency that the four-day-long siege was close to being declared over. He said special forces combing the building were no longer encountering any resistance.

“Our special forces are inside the building checking the rooms. We think that everyone, the hostages, have been evacuated, but we don’t want to take any chances,” Manoah Esipisu, a government spokesman, said.

“We’re in control of Westgate,” the interior ministry said in a message on Twitter.

In an exclusive interview on Monday, Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told Al Jazeera that al-Qaeda, not al-Shabab, was behind the attack.
Al-Shabab is “not acting alone”, this assault is “part of an international terrorism campaign”, Mohamed said.

She said that about 20 gunmen and women were behind the attack, and that both the victims and perpetrators came from a variety of nationalities.

In a separate interview with the American PBS network, Mohamed said “two or three” Americans and one Briton were among the attackers.

“Al-Shabab are looking for relevance on an international scale – especially after a change of leadership – and is looking to send the message that they are still a force to be reckoned with,” Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Adow reported from Nairobi.

In a speech on Monday, the Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, described al-Shabab as a threat to the world.

“They are a threat to the continent of Africa, and the world at large,” he said.

‘Despicable and beastly’

Al-Shabab and al-Qaeda announced their alliance in February last year, and Abu Omar, a Somali-based al-Shabab commander, confirmed in an interview with Al Jazeera that his group is taking orders from al-Qaeda.

Earlier on Monday, explosions and heavy gunfire were reported and also fires broke out as soldiers stormed the mall.

The siege began midday on Saturday, when the gunmen marched into the complex, firing grenades and automatic weapons and sending panicked shoppers fleeing.

At least 11 Kenyan troops were wounded in intense gun battles on Monday, the army said.

Police said they had also arrested more than 10 people for questioning.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose nephew was killed along with his fiancee, called the attack “despicable and beastly”.

Al-Shabab said the carnage was in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia.

“If you want Kenya in peace, it will not happen as long as your boys are in our lands,” rebel spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage said in a statement posted online.

Shocked witnesses said the gunmen tried to weed out non-Muslims for execution by interrogating people on their religion or asking them to recite the Muslim profession of faith.

The dead include six Britons, two French women, two Canadians including a diplomat, a Chinese woman, two Indians, a South Korean, a South African and a Dutch woman, according to their governments.

Also killed was Ghanaian poet and former UN envoy Kofi Awoonor, 78, while his son was injured.

World powers condemned the attack, the worst in Nairobi since an al-Qaeda bombing at the US embassy killed more than 200 people in 1998.

US President Barack Obama called Kenyatta offering “whatever law enforcement support that is necessary”, calling the attack a “terrible outrage,” while UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the violence was “totally reprehensible”.