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Kenyan Forces 'In Control' Of Besieged Mall

  • RFE/RL

Smoke rises from the Westgate mall in Nairobi as fighting continued on September 23.

Smoke rises from the Westgate mall in Nairobi as fighting continued on September 23.

Kenya's Interior Ministry says security forces are now "in control" of the Nairobi shopping mall that was seized by armed Islamists who have killed more than 60 people.

In a statement on Twitter, the ministry added that officials believed "all hostages" have now been released from the upscale Westgate shopping mall.

However, the ministry declined to give specifics on the hostages, or when the battle might be concluded.

News agencies reported that bursts of gunfire were heard coming from the mall early on September 24, as security forces apparently were continuing operations to flush out the militants.

Militants of the Somalia-based Al-Shabab group, which is linked to Al-Qaeda, stormed the mall on September 21, massacring at least 62 people.

At least 18 foreigners have been reported among those killed in the siege. They include six Britons, as well as citizens of France, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Peru, India, Ghana, South Africa, and China.

Kenyan officials say there were 10 to 15 attackers, and have described them as a "multinational" group.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said in a U.S. television interview that "two or three Americans" and a British woman were believed to be among the attackers.

She told the "PBS Newshour" show that the Americans were young men, "between maybe 18 and 19" years of age. She said they were "of Somali origin or Arab origin," but had lived in the U.S. state of Minnesota and elsewhere.

U.S. officials have said they are investigating reports of the involvement of Americans.

READ MORE: What Is Al-Shabab?

President Barack Obama said the United States stands by Kenya in its effort to cope with what he called the "terrible outrage" of the attack.

"We will provide them with whatever law enforcement support that is necessary," he saud. "And we are confident that Kenya, which has been a pillar of stability in Eastern Africa, will rebuild."

Al-Shabab 'International Threat'

The mall siege has marked the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 truck bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, which killed more than 200 people. That attack was claimed by the Al-Qaeda network.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has said that the mall massacre showed that Al-Shabab was a threat not just to Somalia, but to the larger international community.

Al-Shabab, which means "The Youth" in Arabic, emerged in war-torn Somalia in 2006.

It is a radical Sunni group, which, at its peak of power, ran much of southern Somalia but has now been pushed back into rural areas by African Union forces, predominantly Kenyan, who are trying to stabilize Somalia and support its weak government.

Al-Shabab enforces strict Shari'a law in the areas it controls, including stoning to death women accused of adultery and amputating the hands of thieves.

On September 24, the United Nations envoy for Somalia called for more international troops to counter Al-Shabab.

Nicholas Kay, the UN's special representative for Somalia, told a news conference in Geneva that Al-Shabab had some 5,000 members and posed an international threat.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, AP, and Reuters
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