39 dead in Kenya mall attack claimed by militants

People run from the Westgate Mall, an upscale shopping mall  in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday Sept. 21 2013, where shooting erupted when armed men staged an attack. (AP Photo/Jason Straziuso)
People run from the Westgate Mall, an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday Sept. 21 2013, where shooting erupted when armed men staged an attack. (AP Photo/Jason Straziuso)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Multiple barrages of gunfire erupted Sunday morning from the upscale Kenyan mall where there is a hostage standoff with Islamic extremists nearly 24 hours after they attacked using grenades and assault rifles.

Two wounded Kenyan security forces were carried out of the Westgate shopping mall after a sustained volley of gunfire that may have included grenade blasts.

Kenyan authorities said the militants held an unknown number of hostages in the shopping center located in the Westlands area of Nairobi, after killing at least 39 and injuring 150 on Saturday.

Somalia’s al-Qaida-linked rebel group, al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the attack in which they specifically targeted non-Muslims.

Kenyans and foreigners were among those confirmed dead, including French and Canadians. Kenya’s presidential office said that one of the attackers was arrested on Saturday and died after suffering from bullet wounds.

“Violent extremists continue to occupy Westgate Mall. Security services are there in full force,” said the United States embassy in an emergency text message issued Sunday morning.

Trucks brought in a fresh contingent of soldiers from the Kenya Defense Forces early Sunday to back the combined military and police force that surrounded the upscale mall overnight.

Daylight brought some good news, as Kenyan media reported that several people in hiding in the mall escaped to safety, suggesting that not everyone who is still inside is being held by al-Shabab.

Cecile Ndwiga said she had been hiding under a car in the basement parking garage.

“I called my husband to ask the soldiers to come and rescue me. Because I couldn’t just walk out anyhow. The shootout was all over here — left, right— just gun shots,” she said.

Nairobi resident Paolo Abenavoli said he is holed up in his apartment only 100 meters from the mall with a direct view of the entrance. He said he could see a dozen or more security forces inside a first floor restaurant.

“The battle is on now,” Abenavoli told The Associated Press by telephone as the fresh gunfire broke out Sunday.

Security forces had pushed curious crowds far back from the mall. Hundreds of residents gathered on a high ridge above the mall to watch for any activity.

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