“Most of the hostages have been released, and the Kenya Defense Forces has taken control of most parts of the building,” a Kenyan military spokesman, Col. Cyrus Oguna, told the television station KTN. He did not say how many hostages had been held or freed.
On Monday morning, explosions and gunshots were heard from the besieged mall and there were reports of clashes unfolding inside the building. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Al Shabab reportedly threatened to kill hostages if Kenyan security forces, who are being advised by western and Israeli experts, stormed the mall.
“Israelis and Kenyan forces have tried to enter Westgate by force but they could not,” Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said in an audio statement posted online, according to Reuters. “The mujahideen will kill the hostages if the enemies use force.”
Sixty-three people remain missing, according to the Kenyan Red Cross, but it is unclear if they are being held hostage or if they are hiding from the attackers. Also unclear were the fates of the 10 to 15 assailants who are heavily armed.
In a nationally televised news conference, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta declared that the siege would probably end soon. “The criminals are now located in one place within the building. With the professionals on site, I assure Kenyans that we have as good a chance to successfully neutralize the terrorists as we can hope for,” he said. Kenyatta added that one of his nephews and the man’s fiancee were among those killed.
The attack stunned Kenya, which has one of the continent’s biggest economies and has been a major hub for U.S. military and humanitarian activity in East Africa.
For the past two years, al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, has been considered by many U.S. officials and analysts to be all but defeated. The militia had lost much of the territory it once held in Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu. It was pushed to the margins by a campaign that has involved U.S. Special Operations troops as well as African forces mobilized largely by Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Burundi.
But the well-organized assault on the mall that began around lunchtime Saturday upended the calculations of Kenyan and Western security officials. As of early Monday, the toll had risen to 68 dead and more than 175 injured, the Kenyan Red Cross said. The attackers, who carried grenades and clutched machine guns and AK-47 assault rifles, had chosen a target popular with Westerners and wealthy Kenyans, a move sure to hurt the nation’s critical tourism industry and spread unease among the numerous Western aid agencies based in Nairobi.
“This tells me that al-Shabab remains resilient, able and willing to strike beyond Somalia’s borders to survive,” said Juan Zarate, who served as a senior counterterrorism adviser in the administration of President George W. Bush. “They remain a real terrorist threat to Somalia, the region and potentially beyond.” The dead included numerous foreigners from Britain, France, Canada, Australia and other countries. While no Americans were reported killed, Ruhila Adatia-Sood, the wife of Ketan Sood, a Foreign Service national working for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Nairobi, was among the dead, USAID said in a statement. Five American citizens were wounded, U.S. officials said.
In numerous tweets from a Twitter handle that was later disabled, al-Shabab declared that the attack was in revenge for Kenya sending troops to fight in neighboring Somalia and said that the group was shifting the battleground to Kenya.