Sporadic gunfire was heard and smoke continued to rise from the building. Several militants from al-Shabab, a group allied with al-Qaeda, appeared dug in at the shopping center, determined to fight to the death.
In messages posted on Twitter, the militia said it was still holding hostages, who were “looking quite disconcerted but nevertheless, alive.” Another tweet said: “Mujahideen are still holding their ground #westgate.”
Kenyan officials offered a different account, saying they believe all hostages had been released. “We’re very near the end,” Kenya’s Interior Ministry said on Twitter at noon.
But dozens of people reported to have been inside the mall remained missing, according to the Kenyan Red Cross. And a Kenyan government spokesman, Manoah Esipisu, described a situation where Kenyan security forces were engaged in combat with the militants.
“One more terrorist of the Westgate siege has been gunned down, bringing the death toll of these terrorists to three,” Esipisu wrote in a tweet. Earlier government statements suggested that as many as four of the militants may have been killed.
But al-Shabab quickly parried Esipisu’s tweet with a taunting one of its own. “None of the Mujahids is dead. . . . Everything under control,” the militia said.
There has been considerable speculation about the identity of the militants and how they managed to pull off a sophisticated assault that killed at least 62 people and kept security forces at bay. Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said Monday that “two or three Americans” and “one Brit” were among the perpetrators of the attack.
She said in an interview with “PBS Newshour” that the Americans were 18 to 19 years old, of Somali or Arab origin and lived “in Minnesota and one other place” in the United States. The British jihadist was a woman who has “done this many times before,” Mohamed said.
U.S. officials said Monday that they were pressing to determine whether any of the assailants were American.
“But at this point we have no definitive evidence of the nationalities or identities of the perpetrators,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Al-Shabab is a Somali militia. But Gen. Julius Karangi, chief of the Kenya Defense Forces, told reporters that the militants inside the mall were “clearly a multinational collection from all over the world,” though he did not offer details. “We are fighting global terrorism here,” Karangi said.