NAIROBI - Kenyan security forces were locked in a stand-off on Sunday with gunmen who killed at least 39 people at an upmarket shopping mall in the Kenyan capital, and it was still unclear how many hostages the al Qaeda-linked militants were holding.
The Somali Islamist group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for Saturday's assault on Nairobi's Westgate mall, which is frequented by Westerners as well as Kenyans.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said more than 39 people had been killed, among them close members of his own family. A senior government official said on his Twitter feed that more than 300 people had been wounded. The dead included children and the wounded ranged in age from two to 78.
France said two of its citizens were dead and Canada said two Canadians had died, including a diplomat. The US State Department said it had reports that American citizens had been hurt, and Britain said its nationals had undoubtedly been affected.
Police said the stand-off was focused around the Nakumatt supermarket, one of Kenya's biggest chains, where the attackers were said to be holding hostages.
Kenyatta said the security forces were engaged in a"delicate operation" with the top priority being to safeguard the lives of people caught up in the incident, but it was unclear how many were still trapped inside the building.
Al Shabaab, which has links to al Qaeda and is battling Kenyan and other African peacekeepers in Somalia, had repeatedly threatened attacks on Kenyan soil if Nairobi did not pull its troops out of the Horn of Africa country.
The raid presents Kenyatta with his first major security challenge since a March election victory. Kenyatta has vowed to defeat the militants who have said it is time to shift the war to Kenyan soil.
"We have overcome terrorist attacks before," he said.