NEWS

Kenya mall attack: 2 Canadians among 59 dead

09/22/2013 05:56 EDT | Updated 11/22/2013 05:12 EST
An upscale Nairobi shopping mall is now entering its second day under a violent siege that killed two Canadians and at least 57 other people, as Israeli advisers hunkered down with Kenyan forces today to formulate a strategy for flushing out Islamic militants holding hostages inside.

One of the Canadians was confirmed by several federal departments as Annemarie Desloges, a 29-year-old diplomat who worked at the Canadian embassy. Desloges was previously posted in Delhi, and was off-duty shopping at the Kenyan capital's Westgate shopping centre on Saturday when the militants attacked with assault rifles and grenades.

Desloges starte She had been working with both Citizenship and Immigration Canada as well as the Canada Border Services Agency in Kenya for two years, the offices confirmed in a joint statement Saturday night.

"Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms this cowardly, hateful act that apparently targeted innocent civilians who were simply out shopping," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in extending his condolences to the victim's families.

A second Canadian killed in the attack has not yet been named.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said he was stunned by the killings of Canadians in the militant attack. The al-Qaeda-linked Somali group al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the assault, which reportedly targeted non-Muslims.

"That people could be gunned down in broad daylight in a shopping mall on a weekend is just a tremendous tragedy," Baird said from London, Ont. "And obviously when you have someone who is serving their country abroad, it’s quite devastating."

Meanwhile, Israeli advisers are helping Kenyan forces formulate a strategy to end the siege, according to an Israeli security source.

Freelance journalist James Reinl told CBC News from Nairobi it's believed that "something like 10, 15 gunmen" remain inside the building with hostages.

"We understand that there is a final standoff where the security services are ready to launch a raid on the final number of gunmen who are in the building with hostages," Reinl said. "We don't know how many civilians are inside, exactly, particularly because there will be many hiding in different parts of the building."

An Israeli security source told The Associated Press that Israeli advisers are "helping with the negotiating strategy," but added that "no Israelis involved in any imminent storming operation."

Kenya's interior cabinet secretary Joseph Lenku said that Kenyan forces have control of the security cameras inside the mall. Combined military and police forces have surrounded the building.

The gunmen remain inside with hostages nearly 24 hours after they launched the attack with grenades and assault rifles.

About 1,000 people have been rescued so far from the Westgate mall, Lenku said.

Former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told reporters at the mall that he has been told officials couldn't determine the exact number of hostages inside the mall.

"There are quite a number of people still being held hostage on the third floor and the basement area where the terrorists are still in charge," Odinga said.

American Sara Head spoke to CBC News about what it was like to hide from gunmen at the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi. Read her story here.

Kenyans and foreigners were among those confirmed dead, including French, Canadians and Chinese.

The Chinese Embassy in Kenya said in a statement Sunday that a 38-year-old Chinese woman had been killed in the shopping mall "terror attack." Her son was injured in the attack and in a stable condition in hospital, according to the statement posted on the embassy's website.

Kenya's presidential office said that one of the attackers was arrested on Saturday and died after suffering from bullet wounds.

Trucks brought in a fresh contingent of soldiers from the Kenya Defence Forces early Sunday.

"Violent extremists continue to occupy Westgate Mall. Security services are there in full force," said the United States embassy in an emergency text message issued Sunday morning.

Daylight brought some good news, as Kenyan media reported that several people hiding in the mall escaped to safety, suggesting that not everyone who is still inside is being held by al-Shabaab.

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 metres 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 told The Associated Press by telephone as the fresh gunfire broke out Sunday.

Security forces had pushed curious crowds far back from the mall. Hundreds of residents gathered on a high ridge above the mall to watch for any activity.

United Nations Security Council issued a statement on Saturday condemning what they described as a terrorist attack in Nairobi.

"The members of the Security Council reaffirm that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed," the statement reads.

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