Two militants have been killed in the ongoing military raid on a Nairobi mall and nearly all hostages have been freed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Interior Ole Lenku said on Monday.
“We are fully in control of the situation. There is no reason for alarm,” he said, adding: “We are in control of all the floors. We have fully cordoned off the building.” Mr. Lenku told a press conference that all the terrorists are men, though some had dressed like women as a way to confuse the situation.
Between 10 and 15 gunmen took part in the assault .
He said a fire inside the mall was the work of the militants, but that it would soon be extinguished.
Kenyan security forces remained locked in a battle with al-Qaeda-linked militants at the Nairobi shopping mall where gunmen held hostages for three days after launching their assault.
The Kenya Red Cross said 69 locals and foreigners have been killed and at least 175 injured in the attack claimed by Somali Islamist militia al-Shabaab which targeted non-Muslims.
Soldiers, police officers and special units, including snipers, are positioned around the four-storey building, backed up by helicopters overhead.
Earlier, police Inspector General David Kimaiyo said on his Twitter feed. “Thumbs up to our multi-agency team, we have just managed to rescue some hostages. We’re increasingly gaining advantage of the attackers.”
“We urge everyone to stay calm. Our forces are in control,” the National Disaster Operations Centre said on its Twitter feed. It also said: “Avoid the Westgate area completely. Operations still ongoing.” There were media reports that the Kenyan special forces carrying out an assault against the militants were behind the latest explosions which are causing black smoke clouds to rise from the building.
The Red Cross said 63 people were still officially listed as missing.
The governments of Canada, France, Britain, South Africa, the Netherlands and the United States said some of their citizens had been killed or injured in the massacre.
Some 10 to 15 attackers from al-Shabaab were cornered in one part of the building with the hostages when security forces launched, to the sound of heavy explosions, what they described as a “major assault” late on Sunday.
Security forces are believed to be sharing information with foreign security agencies, as they try to find a way to free the remaining hostages.
British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his annual visit to Queen Elizabeth II at her home in Balmoral, Scotland to chair a meeting of the emergency committee Cobra to help with the crisis in Nairobi.
The mall, a popular shopping spot for expatriates and locals, has been cordoned off and security has been beefed up across Nairobi.
It is the worst terrorist attack in Kenya since a bomb attack on the US embassy 15 years ago.
Kenyan medics have been calling for blood donations, with a steady stream of volunteers lining up to give at various locations in the capital and elsewhere in the East African nation.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility, citing Kenya’s military presence in southern Somalia.
The government sent troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight an insurgency and prevent cross—border raids, following a spate of kidnappings by al—Shabaab on Kenyan soil.
The mall lies in Westlands, a wealthy Nairobi neighbourhood where United Nations workers and diplomats reside and often frequent the mall on weekends.
In The Hague, Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto was given permission by the International Criminal Court to return home for one week to help deal with crisis.
The crimes against humanity trial will proceed in Mr. Ruto’s absence, it said.
Mr. Ruto is charged with orchestrating murder and the forcible displacement of people on ethnic grounds following the disputed 2007 election in Kenya.