NEWS

Kenya mall crisis: More blasts, gunfire heard

09/22/2013 05:56 EDT | Updated 11/22/2013 05:12 EST
More explosions and gunfire have been heard from a mall in Nairobi where al-Qaeda-linked militants are still believed to be holding some hostages since gunmen stormed the shopping centre Saturday, resulting in at least 68 deaths, including two Canadians.

The CBC's Nahlah Ayed, who is in the capital of Kenya, tweeted that more blasts and gunfire could be heard from the Westgate mall several hours after a daybreak assault by military personnel. At about 2 p.m. local time, black smoke was rising from the upscale shopping mall.

- PHOTOS | Kenya mall a battlefield

- Ottawa victim from family of diplomats

PHOTOS | Kenya mall a battlefield

Ottawa victim from family of diplomats

She added that there were conflicting reports from police about the source of the smoke. Initially, it was thought police were in "the final stages" of ending the standoff. Later, she reported, there were indications the smoke "may be the attackers burning mattresses."

That news came after an official told The Associated Press some hostages have not been released, contrary to an earlier statement from the military that "most" had been rescued.

At daybreak Monday, military helicopters circled over the mall when about five minutes of sustained gunfire broke out inside, a clear indication that at least one of the estimated 10 to 15 gunmen who attacked the shopping centre Saturday was still on the loose.

Late on Sunday, a military spokesman had said "most" of the hostages had been released, but a person with knowledge of the rescue operation told AP that none of them had been let go or rescued overnight. The person insisted on anonymity.

Kenyan authorities said they would do their utmost to save hostages' lives, but no officials could say precisely how many people were being held captive. Kenya's Red Cross said in a statement, citing police, that 49 people had been reported missing. Officials did not make an explicit link but that number could give an indication of the number of people held captive.

Kenya's Red Cross said the death toll rose to 68, including the two Canadians, after nine bodies were recovered Sunday. More than 175 people were injured, including many children, Kenyan officials said. It has been reported that at least one other person has died.

The first Canadian victim identified was confirmed by several federal departments as Annemarie Desloges, 29, a 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 has worked for both Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) as well as the Canada Border Services Agency in Kenya, the offices confirmed in a joint statement Saturday night. She joined the CIC in 2006, then the foreign service in 2008.

Another Canadian who died in the attack at the upmarket shopping centre has been identified by Vancouver-area family members as Naguib Damji.

On Monday, there was frustration among residents in Nairobi.

Ayed also reported that pastors had arrived near the mall to sing and pray for the hostages and those who lost their lives.

Late on Sunday, Kenya's National Disaster Operation Centre had said on Twitter, "This will end tonight. Our forces will prevail."

Col. Cyrus Oguna, a Kenyan military spokesman, said that many of the rescued hostages — mostly adults — were suffering from dehydration. An Associated Press reporter at a triage centre next to the mall said no hostages ever showed up there.

As the crisis neared the 48-hour mark, video taken by someone inside the mall's main department store when the assault began emerged. The video showed frightened and unsure shoppers crouching as long and loud volleys of gunfire could be heard.

Loud exchanges of gunfire rang out from inside the four-storey mall Sunday. Kenyan troops were seen carrying in at least two rocket-propelled grenades. Al-Shabab militants reacted angrily to the helicopters on Twitter and warned that the Kenyan military action was endangering hostages.

Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked rebel group, al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the attack that specifically targeted non-Muslims, saying it was in retribution for Kenyan forces' 2011 push into neighbouring Somalia. Kenya's presidential office said one of the attackers was arrested on Saturday and died after suffering from bullet wounds.

Al-Shabab said hostages held by militants holed up in the mall would be killed if force is used, according to an audio statement carried by a website linked to the group, reported Reuters.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned "an enormous offence against everybody's sense of right and wrong," and called the attackers "ruthless and completely reckless terrorists."

Kerry, who was in New York for meetings at the United Nations, spoke Sunday with Somalia's foreign minister and UN ambassador.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said U.S. law enforcement, military and civilian personnel in Nairobi were providing advice and assistance to the Kenyan authorities. She said five Americans were among the scores of people injured in the attack, but the U.S. had no reports of any American deaths.

Earliar Sunday, al-Shabab said on its new Twitter feed — after its previous one was shut down Saturday — that Kenyan officials were asking the hostage-takers to negotiate and offering incentives.

"We'll not negotiate with the Kenyan govt as long as its forces are invading our country, so reap the bitter fruits of your harvest," al-Shabab said in a tweet.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who lost a nephew and the nephew's fiancee in the attack, reiterated his government's determination to continue fighting al-Shabab.

"We went as a nation into Somalia to help stabilize the country and most importantly to fight terror that had been unleashed on Kenya and the world," said Kenyatta. "We shall not relent on the war on terror."

Although this violent attack had succeeded, the Kenyan leader said, the country's security forces had "neutralized" many others.

Judges at the International Criminal Court on Monday adjourned the trial of Kenyan Vice-President William Ruto for a week to allow him to return home and deal with the hostage crisis.

Kenyan security officials sought to reassure the families of hostages but implied that some of those being held could be killed.

"The priority is to save as many lives as possible," said Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Lenku, adding that more than 1,000 people escaped the attack Saturday.

"We have received a lot of messages from friendly countries, but for now it remains our operation," Lenku said, adding that Kenyan forces controlled the mall's security cameras.

Westgate mall is at least partially owned by Israelis, and reports circulated that Israeli commandos were on the ground to assist in the response. Four restaurants inside the mall are Israeli-run or owned.

In Israel, a senior defence official said there were no Israeli forces participating in an assault, but said it was possible that Israeli advisers were providing assistance. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a classified military issue, would not elaborate.

Israel has close ties to Kenya going back many years. In recent years, Israel has identified East Africa as an area of strategic interest and stepped up ties with Kenya and other neighbouring countries, due to shared threats posed by al-Qaeda and other extremist elements. In 2002, militants bombed an Israeli-owned luxury hotel near Mombasa, killing 13 people, and tried to shoot down an Israeli airliner at the same time.

Among other foreigners confirmed dead include those from Britain, France, India, Ghana, South Africa and China.

Britain's prime minister, in confirming the deaths of three British nationals, told the country to "prepare ourselves for further bad news."

Kofi Awoonor, a Ghanaian poet, professor and former ambassador to Brazil, Cuba and the United Nations, died after being wounded in the attack, Ghana's presidential office confirmed. Ghana's Ministry of Information said Awoonor's son was injured and is responding to treatment.

Britain's Foreign Office said that Foreign Secretary William Hague chaired a meeting of Britain's crisis committee and sent a rapid deployment team from London to Nairobi to provide extra consular support.

The United Nations Security Council condemned the attacks and "expressed their solidarity with the people and government of Kenya" in a statement.

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