Islamists say still holding hostages in Kenya mall siege

APTOPIX Kenya Mall At_Kand_0.jpg

Nairobi: Al-Qaeda linked Islamist militants said they are still holding hostages as Kenyan troops battled for a fourth day to end the bloody siege at a Nairobi shopping centre.
Sporadic gunfire at the upmarket Westgate mall broke out again at dawn, hours after officials claimed Kenyan troops had wrested back 'control' of the sprawling complex from Somalia's Shebab insurgents, who are said to include Americans and a British woman.
At least 62 shoppers and staff have been killed and close to 200 wounded in the siege, but concerns are high that the toll may yet rise, with the Shebab boasting about countless number of dead bodies still scattered inside the mall.
The fate of 63 people listed as missing remains unclear. "The hostages who were being held by the mujahedeen inside Westgate are still alive, looking quite disconcerted but, nevertheless, alive," the Shebab said on their latest Twitter account.
However, Kenyan officials have said all the hostages are believed to have been freed, with the interior ministry saying that the assault was very near the end.
Security sources said one or two militants were barricaded in or around a casino on one of the upper floors of the complex.
Shebab fighters stormed the crowded mall midday on Saturday, tossing grenades, firing automatic weapons and sending panicked shoppers fleeing.
Government spokesman Manoah Esipisu told AFP that special forces were sanitising the complex in case there are a couple of them hiding in a remote room or corner.
"We think that everyone, the hostages, have been evacuated," Esipisu said, with security sources saying those freed were taken to a military hospital.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said several American nationals and a British woman dubbed by the media as the "White Widow" were among the fighters."We think that everyone, the hostages, have been evacuated," Esipisu said, with security sources saying those freed were taken to a military hospital.
Special forces yesterday killed at least three gunmen and wounded several in bitter fighting in the part Israeli-owned complex, which was popular with wealthy Kenyans and expatriates.
At least 11 Kenyan soldiers were wounded in the intense gun battles.
A Kenyan security source and a Western intelligence official said Israeli forces were also involved in operations, along with British and US agents.
Kenyan army chief Julius Karangi said the attackers were from different countries. Many foreign fighters, including Somalis with dual nationalities, are members of the Shebab force.
In an interview with US public broadcaster PBS, Kenya's foreign minister said Americans and a British woman were among the attackers.
"The Americans, from the information we have, are young men, about between maybe 18 and 19," Mohamed said.
Asked if the Briton was a woman, she replied: "Woman. And she has, I think, done this many times before."
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku had said earlier that all the attackers were men but noting some of them had dressed like women.
Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May said she was aware of the reports, adding: "But until we can see the investigation is completed it is not possible to give further details or to confirm or deny that issue".
There is growing media speculation at the role of wanted British extremist Samantha Lewthwaite, daughter of a British soldier and widow of suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay, who blew himself up on a London Underground train on July 7, 2005, killing 26 people.
Lewthwaite is wanted in Kenya, and is accused of links to the Shebab. Police said they had also arrested more than 10 people for questioning.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose nephew was killed along with his fiancee, has called the attack despicable and beastly.

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