Kenya troops battle militants in four-day mall bloodbath

Kenya troops battle militants in four-day mall bloodbath
Soldiers from a special unit arrive outside the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

NAIROBI, Sept 24, 2013 - Kenyan troops on Tuesday battled Islamists making their final stand in a deadly shopping mall siege, on the fourth day of the attack by Al-Qaeda-linked militants said to include Americans and a British woman.

Sporadic shooting at the upmarket Westgate mall broke out again at dawn, hours after officials had claimed Kenyan troops were in "control" of the sprawling complex.

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.

Security sources said "one or two" militants were taking a final stand against special forces in or around a casino on one of the upper floors of the complex.

Government spokesman Manoah Esipisu told AFP early Tuesday the siege was close to being declared over, with special forces "sanitising" the complex in case "there are a couple of them hiding in a remote room or corner."

As the interior ministry said early Tuesday that all hostages trapped by the militants are believed to have been freed, Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said that several American nationals and a British woman were among the fighters.

Somalia's Shebab insurgents have claimed the attack, which began midday on Saturday when the armed militants marched into the packed upscale complex, tossing grenades, firing automatic weapons and sending panicked shoppers fleeing.

No details on the numbers of hostages released have been given, but 63 people were earlier recorded missing by the Red Cross, a figure thought to include hostages as well as those possibly killed.

"We think that everyone, the hostages, have been evacuated," Esipisu said, with security sources saying those freed were taken to a military hospital.

At least 11 Kenyan troops were wounded in intense gun battles on Monday, the army said.

Special forces on Monday also 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.

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 gunmen were of different nationalities. Many foreign fighters, including Somalis with dual nationalities, are members of the Shebab force.

"They are from different countries. We have sufficient intelligence this is global terrorism," Karangi said.

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,"

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 earlier denied that any of the insurgents were women: "All the terrorists are men," he said, noting: "Some of them had dressed like women."

Police said they had also arrested more than 10 people for questioning.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose nephew was killed along with his fiancee, called the attack "despicable and beastly."

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