|Soldiers take positions outside the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 21, 2013. At least 20 people have been killed and more than 50 others wounded when masked gunmen stormed a popular shopping mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and held shoppers hostages on Saturday. (Xinhua/George M. Mulala)|
NAIROBI - Gunmen stormed a shopping mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Saturday, killing at least 39 people including close relatives of Kenya's president and children, in an attack claimed by the Somali Islamist group al Shabaab.
The Chinese Embassy in Kenya's capital Nairobi said that the preliminary findings showed that there are no Chinese casualties so far in the attack.
Shooting continued hours after the initial assault as troops surrounded the Westgate mall and police and soldiers combed the building, hunting the attackers shop by shop. A police officer inside the building said the gunmen were barricaded inside a Nakumatt supermarket, one of Kenya's biggest chains.
"We got three bodies from this shop," said volunteer Vipool Shah, 64, standing a dozen metres from the supermarket entrance and pointing to a children's shoe shop where blood lay in pools.
Shah turned to a nearby burger bar where piped music still played and food lay abandoned. "And a couple of bodies here."
The attack appeared designed to achieve maximum global impact by targeting a place frequented by Westerners as well as Kenyans.
France said two of its citizens were dead, the U.S. State Department said it had reports that American citizens had been injured, and Britain said its nationals had undoubtedly been affected.
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 Kenyan govt (government) is pleading with our Mujahideen (holy warriors) inside the mall for negotiations," the group said under its official Twitter handle @HSM_Press. "There will be no negotiations whatsoever at #Westgate."
Another al Shabaab tweet read: "For long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land, now it's time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land."
President Uhuru Kenyatta said more than 39 people had been killed, among them close members of his own family, and more than 150 others wounded.
"We have overcome terrorist attacks before. We will defeat them again," he said in a sombre televised address, promising to hunt down and punish the perpetrators.
The assault was the single biggest attack in Kenya since al Qaeda's east Africa cell bombed the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing more than 200 people. In 2002, the same militant cell attacked an Israeli-owned hotel on the Kenyan coast and tried to shoot down an Israeli jet in a coordinated attack.