September 23, 2013

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Blasts were heard Monday at the Kenyan shopping mall where al Qaeda–linked terrorists still held a number of hostages—hours after the Kenyan military launched an all-out assault on the remaining gunmen. A Kenyan military spokesman said earlier Monday that the fate of the remaining hostages in a Nairobi mall is still unclear. Officials said “most” hostages had been rescued and the military controlled “most” of the mall. Gunmen from Al-Shabab, Somalia’s al Qaeda affiliate, stormed in the Kenyan shopping mall Saturday afternoon, killing at least 68, wounding 175—including children—and taking a number of hostages. At least 1,000 people escaped on Saturday.

Jason Straziuso reports for the Associated Press:

"Military helicopters circled over the mall at daybreak, when about five minutes of sustained gunfire broke out at the mall, a clear indication that at least one of the estimated 10 to 15 gunmen who attacked the mall when it was filled with shoppers Saturday was still on the loose.

A large military assault began on the mall shortly before sundown on Sunday, with one helicopter skimming very close to the roof of the shopping complex as a loud explosion rang out, far larger than any previous grenade blast or gunfire volley. Officials said the siege would soon end and said "most" hostages had been rescued and that officials controlled "most" of the mall.

But officials never said how many hostages had been rescued, and Kenya's military spokesman on Monday was still not able to provide clear details.

"We are yet to get confirmation from what's happening in the building," Col. Cyrus Oguna, a Kenyan military spokesman, told The Associated Press.

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

Late on Sunday, Oguna said that many of the rescued hostages — whom he said were mostly adults — were suffering from dehydration. An Associated Press reporter at a triage center next to the mall said no hostages ever showed up there."

As the hostage situation neared the 48-hour mark, video taken by someone inside the mall's main department store when the assault began emerged. The video (above) shows frightened shoppers crouching as long and loud bursts of gunfire are heard.

Kenya's Red Cross said the death toll rose to 68 after nine bodies were recovered Sunday. More than 175 people were injured, including many children, were admitted to several hospitals for treatment.

Kenya's interior minister, Joseph Ole Lenku, currently addressing the press, has confirmed that a fire on Monday was caused by "terrorists". Reuters confirms this and adds that the heavy dark smoke is because mattresses are being burned inside the mall. Two of the militants were killed this morning and some injured. All of the terrorists are men, according to the interior minister, but some are dressed as women.

As troops ran into new positions, one security official told Reuters at the scene: "It is us who caused the explosion, we are trying to get in through the roof." He declined to be named.

For more information on Al-Shabab, Al Jazeera has a run-down here.

Kenya's forces have tightened security at the borders, airports and waterways to prevent any possible escape attempts, the exterior of the mall is secured, and all floors of the mall in Nairobi are now under the control of special forces.

I will add an update to this post later, once anything of significant importance is confirmed.

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