At least 59 people have been killed and another 175 others wounded at an upscale mall in Kenya’s capital Nairobi where soldiers have surrounded an estimated 10 to 15 al-Shabab attackers who are holding an unknown number of civilians hostage.
Multiple barrages of gunfire erupted on Sunday from inside the building, nearly 24 hours after the armed men stormed the Westgate shopping centre using grenades and assault rifles.
“The priority is to save as many lives as possible,” Joseph Lenku, Kenya’s interior cabinet secretary said, reassuring the families of the hostages in the complex.
Kenyan forces have already rescued about 1,000 people, he said.
Lenku said that there were 10 to 15 attackers involved, and Kenyan forces have control of the security cameras inside the mall.
Former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told reporters at the mall that he had been told officials could not 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.
Kenya’s presidential office said that one of the attackers was arrested on Saturday and died after suffering from bullet wounds.
Al-Shabab told Al Jazeera it carried out the attack in which they specifically targeted non-Muslims. Kenyans and foreigners were among those confirmed dead, including French, Britons, Canadians and Chinese.
As daylight broke on Sunday, several people in hiding in the mall escaped to safety, suggesting that not everyone who was still inside was being held by the al-Shabab fighters
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.
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.
The French government confirmed that two of its citizens were killed in what President Francois Hollande described as a “cowardly attack”.