Nairobi mall attack: Most hostages rescued; At least 1 injured from SoCal

KENYA-ATTACK-MALL

Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Kenyan media wearing bullet proof jackets and helmets film near Westgate mall in Nairobi on September 22, 2013. Kenyan Defence troops remain inside the mall, in a standoff with Somali militants a day after they laid siege to the shopping centre shooting and throwing grenades as they entered. The current death toll stands at 43 with a further 200 injured in the attack.

A standoff that began with a shocking attack at Kenya's Westgate Mall Saturday is in its second day, with the Kenyan military vowing to rescue civilians held hostage by gunmen in the upscale shopping center. 

Authorities say they have isolated the attackers and rescued 'most' hostages, though it's not yet clear if the assault has ended. As of Sunday afternoon, Red Cross officials reported 59 deaths and at least 200 wounded in the assault.

We'll add news to this post as it emerges.

Update 4:30 p.m.: SoCal native among injured in attack

U-T San Diego reports that one of the victims of Saturday's attack was Elaine Dang , a graduate of Torrey Pines High School and UC Berkeley. 

Dang was among the hundred who were seen being escorted from the mall Saturday as the chaos unfolded. Though it's unclear the extent of her injuries, she's been tweeting from her hospital bed in Nairobi: 

Dang had been apparently been working at a bar and restaurant review site, EatOut Kenya, U-T reported. 

Update 2:43 p.m.: Military says most hostages rescued

Kenyan's military said late Sunday it had rescued "most" of the remaining hostages held by al-Qaida-linked militants in an upscale Nairobi mall after launching a major operation to end a two-day standoff that had already killed 68 people.

Many of the rescued hostages — mostly adults — were suffering from dehydration, Col. Cyrus Oguna, a military spokesman, told The Associated Press. Oguna refused to release the number of hostages rescued or those still being held. He said some of the attackers had "most probably" been killed in the operation, which began in the morning and culminated in the evening.

— Associated Press

Update 1:52 p.m. PST: Kenya braces for major assault on mall

Kenyan security forces launched a "major" assault late Sunday on the upscale Nairobi mall where an unknown number of hostages were being held by al-Qaida-linked militants, in an operation officials said would end the two-day standoff that had already killed 68 people.

The assault, which began shortly before sundown, came as two helicopters circled the mall, with one skimming very close to the roof. A loud explosion rang out, far larger than any previous grenade blast or gunfire volley.

Kenyan police said on Twitter that a "MAJOR" assault by had started to end the bloody siege.

"This will end tonight. Our forces will prevail. Kenyans are standing firm against aggression, and we will win," Kenya's National Disaster Operation Centre said on Twitter. — Associated Press

Update at 8:50 a.m. PST: Gunfire, explosion reported; Helicopters flying low

Kenyan forces gathered outside the Westgate Mall are making what the country's Daily Nation called a "final assault" on the attackers inside. As many as 30 or more hostages are believed to still be held inside the shopping center.

The news outlet reports that helicopters flew low over the building, and that gunshots could be heard, in what may have been the early moments of an assault.

About 20 minutes later, a large explosion was reported. TV news outlets that had been carrying live feeds from outside the mall began showing images only from locations far from its exterior.

Before the assault began, Kenya's Citizen TV reported that police were tightening security in the area and rerouting traffic away from the mall. — NPR

Update at 7:45 a.m. PST: Kenyan president describes losses, attackers

In an address broadcast live Sunday, President Uhuru Kenyatta provided some details about the perpetrators of the attack.

"We have reports of women as well as male attackers. We cannot confirm details on this. Our security analysts are looking at that," he said. He said that the attackers are "located in one place within the building."

"The al-Shabab terror group have claimed responsibility for this cowardly act of terror, on social media," Kenyatta said. "However, investigations are underway to conclusively establish those responsible for this mayhem, so that we can have full accountability. They shall not get away with their despicable and beastly acts."

Kenyatta said it is "remarkable and encouraging" that more than 1,000 people have already been taken to safety from the mall since the violence began. He also expanded on his statement Saturday, that he lost family members in the attack.

"As your president, and as a leader, and also as a Kenyan, I feel the pain of every life we have lost, and share your grief at our nation's loss," Kenyatta told his nation. "My nephew and his fiancée were amongst those who died in this attack."

The government's forces at the mall face a balancing act of pursuing the attackers and ensuring the safety of the hostages, Kenyatta said. And he said the attack is part of a bigger conflict.

"This is not a Kenyan war," he said. "This is an international war."

Update at 6:40 a.m. PST: British nationals died in attack

The violence in Nairobi has killed three British nationals, the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office said Sunday. A spokesman from the office added, "The number of British Nationals confirmed as killed is likely to rise as further information becomes available."

British officials say "a rapid deployment team" has been sent from London to Nairobi to support the consulate.

Our original post continues:

Saturday's assault started with grenades that were thrown around lunchtime, the peak foot-traffic period, officials say. Panic then ensued, as gunmen began firing indiscriminately. Reports indicate that groups of gunmen attacked different areas simultaneously, in a coordinated strike. The attack has been celebrated by al-Shabab, a militant group based in Somalia, which claimed responsibility for the attack.

Lenku said the number of attackers is between 10 and 15. He did not estimate the number of hostages remaining in the mall. Kenyan officials say that on a normal weekend, about 10,000 people shop at the mall, which is popular among foreigners and the wealthy.

On Sunday, police and Kenyan Defense Forces troops patrolled the area outside the mall and tried to disperse crowds that had gathered in the streets adjacent to the building. For the second day in a row, officials released tear gas to move bystanders from the scene.

"Waiting ambulances are parked outside while sporadic gunfire can be heard coming from inside Westgate Mall," NPR's Gregory Warner reports from Nairobi. "Kenyan police said that the gunmen have been 'contained' but there are still hostages in unsecured locations. Special police forces are securing the building."

Gregory adds, "It's the deadliest terror attack in Nairobi since the U.S. Embassy bombings of 1998."

The attack met with widespread condemnation Sunday, with leaders of France, Britain, Canada and other nations offering their condolences and aid.

The violence has also touched the lives of those in power in Kenya. On Saturday, the country's President Uhuru Kenyatta told those who lost a loved one, "I know what you feel, having also personally lost very close family members in this attack."

And several Americans are among the wounded, according to the U.S. State Department.

"Although we have no reports of any Americans killed today, we have lost a member of our own State Department family," Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement, "the wife of a foreign service national working for the U.S. Agency for International Development."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

 

With contributions by KPCC staff

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