Death toll reaches 68 in Kenya mall assault

2:19 PM, Sep 22, 2013   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: Americans among injured in deadly Kenya mall attack
The mother and a security guard help a child outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Sept. 21 2013, after gunmen threw grenades and opened fire. (Photo: Khalil Senosi, AP)

(USA Today) -- A large explosion late Sunday rocked an upscale Kenyan mall a day after Islamic extremists killed scores of people and took others hostage in an attack with grenades and assault rifles, authorities said.

The Kenya Red Cross said nine more bodies were recovered in a rescue mission late Sunday at Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall, raising the death toll to 68.

An unknown number of extremists and hostages remained in the mall. Kenya's Daily Nation reported that a combination of Kenyan defense and internal security security forces were attempting to make an assault on the attackers, reportedly holed in a room with bulletproof glass.

Earlier, Kenya's interior cabinet secretary Joseph Lenku said 175 were injured and that about 1,000 people have been rescued so far.

The Israeli publication Haaretz was among media reporting that Israeli advisers were aiding Kenyan authorities. All Israelis in the mall had escaped, Haaretz said.

The Somali militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility on Twitter for Saturday's attack, which was allegedly carried out by 10 to 15 gunmen with AK-47s and other sophisticated weapons. Al-Shabaab, which said the attack was retribution for Kenyan forces' 2011 push into Somalia, threatened more violence.

"The Mujahideen entered #Westgate Mall today at around noon and are still inside the mall, fighting the #Kenyan Kuffar inside their own turf," the group said on Twitter.

"What Kenyans are witnessing at #Westgate is retributive justice for crimes committed by their military," the group said.

On Friday, the day before the attack on the mall began, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hosted the Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, senior members of his cabinet, and the chief of the Somali National Army, Gen. Dahir Elmi.

The Pentagon said Hagel "reaffirmed the United States' support to the year-old Federal Government of Somalia and the Somali people" and that Hagel and the Somali leaders discussed how the U.S. military might assist in the training of Somali troops.

Americans were among those injured at the Westgate mall shooting, according to a statement from Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for the State Department. No Americans were reported killed.

President Obama called President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya on Sunday to express condolences. Obama "reiterated U.S. support for Kenya's efforts to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice," the White House said in a statement.

Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement describing the attack as "a heartbreaking reminder that there exists unspeakable evil in our world which can destroy life in a senseless instant."

The attack killed the wife of a foreign service national working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to the statement.

"While we mourn with her family today, we also pledge our commitment to do whatever we can to assist in bringing the perpetrators of this abhorrent violence to justice, and to continue our efforts to improve the lives of people across the globe," Kerry said.

Kenyans and foreigners were among those confirmed dead, including French and Canadians. Kenyatta said he lost some family members in the attack.

Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the attacks, adding "because the situation is ongoing we should prepare ourselves for further bad news."

Kenya's presidential office said that one of the attackers was arrested on Saturday and died from bullet wounds. Lenku said there were 10 to 15 attackers involved. He said that Kenyan forces have control of the mall's security cameras.

Kenyan media reported that several people in hiding in the mall escaped to safety, suggesting that not everyone who is still inside is being held by al-Shabab.

Cecile Ndwiga said she had been hiding under a car in the basement parking garage.

"I called my husband to ask the soldiers to come and rescue me. Because I couldn't just walk out anyhow. The shootout was all over here - left, right- just gun shots," she said.

Nairobi resident Paolo Abenavoli said he is holed up in his apartment only 100 meters from the mall with a direct view of the entrance. He said he could see a dozen or more security forces inside a first floor restaurant.

"The battle is on now," Abenavoli said by telephone as the fresh gunfire broke out Sunday.

The attack began on Saturday afternoon when gunmen tossed grenades and opened fire as panicking shoppers fled the building, some jumping down one story from the second floor of the mall to escape, witnesses told the Nation.

Witnesses told local and national news media that the gunman asked Muslims to leave before opening fire. Kenya is 83% Christian with a sizable Muslim community - about 11% of its 44 million people.

The gunmen carried AK-47s and wore vests with hand grenades on them, Manish Turohit, 18, who hid in a parking garage for two hours, told the Associated Press.

"They just came in and threw a grenade. We were running and they opened fire. They were shouting and firing," he said after marching out of the mall in a line of 15 people who all held their hands in the air.

Off-duty Sgt. Major Frank Mugungu told AP that he saw four male attackers and one female, and that he could clearly identify one of the gunmen as a Somali, though he could not identify the rest.

Military cordoned off the building in the heart of the upscale Westlands district, which is home to upper-class Kenyans and expatriate Westerners - many of whom work for the United Nations - and a locale frequented by tourists.

A local organization was hosting a party for children at the Israeli-owned Westgate mall on Saturday. The mall is also a popular nightspot for hip, young Kenyans who gather there to watch movies or eat at restaurants there.

It is on Kenya's watch list as a site for attacks, along with its towering conference center and Western hotels such as the Hilton.

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