'Most' Hostages Have Been Rescued; Standoff to End Sunday Night
More than a day later, the gunmen who stormed an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya have taken an unknown number of hostages and are facing a "major" assault from Kenyan security forces.
Update 5:07 p.m. There's a lot of misinformation floating around, but this we know for sure: Kenya's Defense Forces say "most" of the hostages have been rescued and "most" of the building has been reclaimed by the military during the major assault on the remaining gunmen barricaded in the Westgate mall. Some security forces were injured in the attack, but they're still hoping for a "speedy conclusion" before the night is through.
Update 2:00 p.m. Kenya's National Disaster Operation Centre said government forces are now engaged in a "major" assault against the remaining terrorists holed up in the Westgate mall. There are reports coming from the area indicating "sporadic gunfire" can be heard near the mall. Kenya's Red Cross announced the death toll rose to 68 after nine more bodies were pulled from the shopping center.
Original More than a day later, the gunmen who stormed an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya armed with automatic weapons and explosives are now locked in an intense standoff with Kenyan security forces with an unknown number of hostages trapped in the middle. The death toll rose dramatically overnight -- 59 people are now dead and 175 wounded, Joseph Ole Lenku, the cabinet secretary for the interior, told reporters Sunday.
Kenyan security forces worked overnight to rescue many of the civilians still trapped inside the Westgate mall, but there were still people inside, Lenku explained. "Overnight more people were evacuated from the mall but a number still remain," he said. "The government will go out of its way to make sure we do not lose lives." Helicopters now circle the sky above the mall while a massive military presence congregates, plots and operates outside. There are Red Cross disaster teams at the ready should something sudden and destructive happen.
Around 12:30 p.m. Saturday, a group of gunmen -- "between 10 and 15 people," Lenku said -- entered the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital armed with AK-47s and throwing grenades, witnesses said. "The gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave. They were safe, and non-Muslims would be targeted," Elijah Kamau, who as at the mall during the attack, told the AP.
Al Shabaab, the Somali Islamist terrorist group with ties to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday. The group boasted about the attack, promised to never surrender, and provided a bizarre, evil commentary over their Twitter account Saturday. The group is now fighting with Twitter administrators to keep an active account.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced Sunday his nephew and his nephew's fiance were killed in the attack. Kenyatta had previously said he lost close family members but refused to elaborate. Other countries have begun tallying their losses, too. The State Department announced four Americans were injured, and the wife of a local American government employee was killed. Secretary of State John Kerry called the attack "a heartbreaking reminder that there exists unspeakable evil in our world," on Saturday. Two Canadians, including a Nairobi-based diplomat, were killed, the Prime Minister's office announced late Saturday. Two French citizens and three British nationals were killed.
So now, a full day later, a stalemate's been reached between the Kenyan security forces and the gunman barricaded inside the mall. There are an unknown number of hostages being held inside different stores. Gunshots rang out over night as military officials on the scene refused to elaborate what was happening inside. Kenyatta described the operation on the ground as a "delicate operation," while the "top priority remains to safeguard the lives of innocent people held up in this unfortunate incident." The New York Times describes the difficult choice Kenyatta must make:
The question facing President Uhuru Kenyatta and his advisers on Sunday was whether to storm the mall and try to root out the militants by force or methodically rescue the remaining people who could not yet be evacuated.
Kenyan forces are still engaging with the attacks. The Westgate mall is Israeli-owned, and Isreali security forces have started fighting alongside Kenya's army. The operation may be scaling up, though: an Associated Press photographer saw soldiers carrying an RPG into the mall.