Kenya mall siege: Live Report

AFP is closing its live report on the siege at Nairobi's Westgate mall where Kenyan troops are still in a standoff with militants, despite assurances from early this morning that the operation is nearing an end. Here are today's main developments:

Smoke rises on September 23, 2013 from the beseiged Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. Kenyan troops continue to fight Islamist militants who are holding a number of hostages after massacring at least 62 people.

- A total of 62 people have been confirmed as killed by the Red Cross, seven lower than the figure previously reported, due to double-counting of bodies. 63 are recorded missing;

- The Interior Ministry says it is in control of all floors of the four-storey mall and that three of the militants have been killed and several injured, with all possible escape routes sealed off;

- Police say they have arrested more than 10 people in relation to the attack which was claimed by Somalia's Al Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents;

- Firefighters have contained a blaze started by the attackers which sent a thick cloud of smoke billowing from the complex and continued to dominate the Nairobi skyline as night fell.

LIVE REPORT ENDS.

1620 GMT: Police say they are expecting Vice President William Ruto "any time from now".

The International Criminal Court earlier excused Ruto from his trial on charges of crimes against humanity for a week so he can deal with the attack. He was due to return to Kenya from The Hague Monday evening.

1614 GMT: AFPTV's footage of the scene at the mall earlier today, when gun fire and loud explosions erupted, can now be seen on our YouTube channel.

Gunshots sent journalists running for cover outside the mall as troops battled to save hostages inside.

In an interview with AFPTV, Laban Onditi Rao, of Kenya's National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, urges members of the business community to "do business with no fear".

1606 GMT: Police say firefighters have contained the fire at Westgate which sent thick plumes of black smoke billowing in the skies.

1601 GMT: Authorities seek to quell any racial tensions in the wake of the attack, particularly on the Internet. Tweets on the official Kenya Police and Interior Ministry accounts say: "We urge all Kenyans online to be responsible in your engagement. Any tribal/racial slurs will not be tolerated."

1552 GMT: "We've arrested more than 10 individuals for questioning in relation to the Westgate attack," police said in a message on their Twitter account.

Earlier the Interior Ministry said several people had been arrested at the airport.

1550 GMT: BREAKING NEWS: MORE THAN 10 ARRESTED OVER MALL ATTACK: POLICE.

1546 GMT: More from Kerry at the UN: "The bottom line is that this tragedy is a terrible reminder to all of us that we share a stake in one another. What happens in one country, we are reminded day to day, matters to many others, to all of us."

Five Americans are known to be among around 200 people wounded in the attack.

US officials say they are also investigating (unverified) reports by CNN that some Americans were among the attackers.

1542 GMT: US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking at a UN conference in New York, pledges his support to the Kenyan people. He says: "Ruthless and valueless terrorists remain a serious challenge everywhere in the world as we all know, whether it's in downtown Manhattan or in a mall in Nairobi, or anywhere else in the world.

"And all of us have a responsibility to remain vigilant. We stand with the Kenyan people.... they are resilient people and they will need the world's support in the coming difficult days."

1539 GMT: Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) say firefighters from various agencies are working to control a fire started in the building by the terrorists -- by setting alight mattresses to distract the ongoing operation.

KDF also has the following updates on casualties on their Twitter account:

"In the last 24hours, 10 more bodies have been retrieved from the building.

"Over 200 civilians have been rescued with 65 receiving treatment in various hospitals. Unfortunately 62 have been confirmed dead."

1531 GMT: In updates on Twitter Kenyan Defence Forces say they are dominating all floors and now concentrating on clearing the building.

"We can confirm that 3 terrorists have been killed so far, a few others have suffered injuries," one tweet says.

"Chances of any terrorists sneaking and escaping are very slim. KDF troops have sealed all possible escape routes."

1527 GMT: Citing the Inspector General of the National Police Service David Kimayo, Kenya Police tweets: "We have taken control of all the floors. We're not here to feed the attackers with pastries but to finish and punish them via @IGKimayo."

1517 GMT: Kenyan Defence Forces say almost a dozen soldiers have been wounded during the ongoing mission. @kdfinfo tweets: "Regrettably, 11 KDF soldiers have been injured in this operation and are receiving medical attention at the Defence Forces Memorial Hospital.

"KDF expresses sympathy to the injured and condoles the families that have lost their loved ones in this attack.

"We hail the efforts of the brave and selfless men and women who are putting their lives on the line in the Defence of our country."

1505 GMT: Kenyan Interior Minister Joesph Ole Lenku says security forces are in control of "all floors" of the four-storey Westgate mall.

Authorities have since early this morning been saying they are hopeful of a "speedy conclusion" to the operation -- but despite assurances that the end is near, the operation drags on.

"Our forces are in control of all the floors," tweets Lenku @joelenku.

1456 GMT: Kenyan police say they are doing everything they can to ensure that the hostages come out alive. It's still not known how many are holed up inside the mall where militants are using them as human shields, though 63 people are recorded missing.

A Kenya Police tweet says: "We're appealing to Kenyans to remain calm, security team is doing everything possible to ensure that the hostages/team are safe."

Despite several explosions and sounds of gunfire today there have been no reports of further fatalities during the standoff, other than the two militants confirmed dead by the interior ministry.

1448GMT: A message of solidarity on Twitter from Rwanda's President Paul Kagame who says: "Kenya should not feel alone - the region, African and the world are with you. The Kenyan spirit is strong and will prevail."

1439 GMT: Sobeki describes shocking scenes of bodies piled up by gunmen. She writes: "Jutting out from behind the statue of an elephant were the legs of yet another victim.

"As more security forces moved into the store I and the other journalists remaining inside were asked to leave through the main entrance, where bodies had been piled up by the shooters to hinder access to the mall."

She also recounts how people in a sushi restaurant sought safety by hiding inside an air vent.

1420 GMT: You can now read the account of AFPTV journalist Nichole Sobeki -- the only TV journalist to gain access to the mall just after the attacks began Saturday -- online. She stayed for three hours inside the complex with her husband Tyler Hicks, a photojournalist for the New York Times.

"I've covered many conflicts before, including Somalia, Libya and Afghanistan -- so am used to seeing scenes of violence. But to find this taking place in a mall I know well, just minutes from my home, was completely surreal," she writes.

Nichole describes "scenes of horror" but also "moments of fellowship... strangers helping each other away from danger. The bravery of members of the security forces and civilians."

1400 GMT: For those just joining us, here is a summary of the day's events so far as the siege continues at Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall:

-A total of 62 people have been confirmed as killed by the Red Cross, seven lower than the figure previously reported, due to double-counting of bodies;

-Kenyan security forces have launched a final push to secure the mall from Somali Islamist gunmen;

-Witnesses outside have reported a thick cloud of black smoke billowing up from the mall as well as explosions and gunfire;

- Israeli forces are thought to be involved in the operation, along with British and US agents.

1345 GMT: Kenya Red Cross figures revising down the death toll from 69 to 62 have been confirmed by Kenya's Interior Ministry. The ministry's Twitter account says 58 people are still in various hospitals in the capital.

1338 GMT: In her account of the scene at the morgue, Helen Vesperini says the impact of the attack has been felt across society. "In a country so often defined by its ethnic and class divisions, Kenyans seemed united in grief," she writes.

Sarah Mbone, an elderly woman at the morgue, tells her: "Everyone was affected by this attack. President (Uhuru) Kenyatta lost his nephew, and me, just an ordinary person, I lost my niece. She had popped into the bank."

1332 GMT: AFP's Helen Vesperini brings us some harrowing accounts from Nairobi morgue.

Alice Karechu, 63, lost her bank manager husband David Muthumbi Karechu in the attack. She says: "Yesterday we were moving around from hospital to hospital looking for him. Now we are here for the post mortem."

Their eldest son, Zachary, says: "I did not know where he had gone. Around five on Saturday, Mum called me and asked if I had been able to get in touch with him.

"It was when we were watching the news that we started to realise it was a possibility Dad had been caught up in that attack. We searched the whole of Saturday night and the whole of Sunday."

1326 GMT: Kenya's Interior Ministry says it has made several arrests. An official tweet states: "ALERT: We've arrested some individuals at the airport for questioning. We ask officers dealing with vital ID docs to be very careful."

1315 GMT: Back at Westgate itself, journalists are reporting a number of explosions resounding from the mall. East Africa correspondent Hannah McNeish tweets: "Many explosions sounding inside Westgate, people shouting on streets.

In another post she describes clashes between police and onlookers: "Police use tear gas against crowd just in front of us. Many explosions."

1310 GMT: Karim Khan, the lawyer of Kenya's Vice President William Ruto, describes the Nairobi attack as Kenya's 9/11.

He was speaking at the International Criminal Court in The Hague where he asked for his client to be excused in order to return to Kenya. Ruto's trial for alleged crimes against humanity was adjourned for at least a week.

"The world would have found it intolerable if the US president and deputy president wasn't there after 9/11," Khan told the court.

1252 GMT: As pictures come in of smoke billowing from Westgate mall, Kenya's Interior Minister says the fire was started by militants who set alight mattresses.

One of the ministry's frequent Twitter posts @InteriorKE says: "CS Lenku: Two terrorists killed in ongoing Westgate siege; attributes smoke to fire lit by militants using mattresses to divert attention."

1243 GMT: Kenya's Interior Ministry calls on Twitter for a moment of silence for the dead and wounded. It is also pleading with people to stay away from the shopping centre unless volunteers, journalists or security services.

And there's an appeal for calm from the president in a tweet from @InteriorKE: "The President UKenyatta is with you during this time, he is being briefed from time to time and is appealing to you to be calm."

1236 GMT: Kenya's Red Cross appears to have revised its fatality figures. The NGO's Twitter account @KenyaRedCross says: "Death Toll is 62, figures we posted earlier was as a result of double counted bodies moved from morgue to morgue."

The earlier reported death toll was 69.

1231 GMT: Nairobi-based AFPTV journalist Nichole Sobecki, who was the only television journalist able to gain access to the Westgate mall just after the attack started, has written an account of the horrific events she witnessed. Here's a snippet:

"Arriving at the scene, people were running from the mall, holding hands, many in tears. Closer in, those who'd been shot were being helped by other civilians, and cars were acting as ambulances, transporting the injured to nearby hospitals....

"From our vantage point, I could see down to the lower floors of the mall, where the bodies of some victims of the attack lay -- their lives so unexpectedly cut short.

"On the first floor, a woman sprawled face down on the floor by a cafe counter waiting to be rescued, her arm held out across two young children in a gesture of protection. They were later escorted out of the mall by security forces."

1220 GMT: An Australian-British architect and his heavily pregnant Dutch wife have been named by friends and media as among those killed in Nairobi. No doubt many more details will start to trickle through soon of the other 67 dead.

Friends and colleagues used blogs and the couple's social media profiles to pay tribute to Ross Langdon, 33, and his wife Elif Yavuz. They were due to become parents for the first time in two weeks.

"Such tragic news about beautiful Ross Langdon and his pregnant partner Elif Yavuz in Nairobi. Very special souls," writes Sydney designer Liane Rossler on Twitter.

1213 GMT: In case you missed it, the Kenyan general's comments rejecting reports of female insurgents follow articles in several British newspapers claiming that Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of one of the suicide bombers in the 2005 attacks on the London transport network, could have masterminded the Nairobi attack.

A Somali Shebab commander, who goes by the name of Abu Omar, also refuted the reports.

He told the BBC: "To verify, we do not employ our sisters to carry out military attacks of this type so these are just baseless rumours that have no substance to them."

1205 GMT: More details on those breaking news alerts. Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku says at least two of the gunmen have been killed in the assault this morning and "several injured".

Kenyan army chief Julius Karangi meanwhile says the attackers are of various nationalities. "They are from different countries. We have sufficient intelligence this is global terrorism," he says.

Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents have claimed the attack and several foreign fighters, including Somalis with dual nationalities, are members of the Shebab force.

Karangi also refutes earlier rumours that there may be women among the insurgents, saying: "There are no women, all the terrorists are men. Some of them had dressed like women.".

1149 GMT: BREAKING NEWS: TWO MALL ATTACKERS KILLED, OTHERS WOUNDED BY KENYAN FORCES: MINISTER.

1148 GMT: BREAKING NEWS: KENYA MALL ATTACKERS FROM DIFFERENT COUNTRIES.

1147 GMT: More on those comments from Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku who says the standoff between security forces and Islamist attackers holed up in the mall is nearing an end... He says that while militants are still fighting they have no way out of the building.

"We think the operation will come to an end soon," Lenku tells a press conference. "We are in control of all the floors, the terrorists are running and hiding in some stores... there is no room for escape."

1142 GMT: We'll bring you more on those breaking news alerts soon. Meanwhile Kenya Red Cross is appealing for calm, with this on Twitter: "We urge the Public to stay calm and stop the speculations on #Westgate hostage situation."

The NGO has set up nationwide blood donor clinics following the attack which has left 69 dead and at least 63 wounded.1137 GMT: BREAKING NEWS: MALL ATTACKERS 'RUNNING AND HIDING BUT NO ESCAPE ROUTE: MINISTER.

1135 GMT: BREAKING NEWS: KENYA MALL OPERATION 'WILL COME TO AN END SOON': MINISTER.

1131 GMT: Journalist Hannah McNeish tweets: "Nairobi seems 2b on fast forward as smoke pours from Westgate. Matatus (mini-buses) screech thru streets and chopper buzzes overhead like bad action film."

1128 GMT: It is not yet clear what exactly caused the earlier explosions, or what impact they have had, but a Kenyan special forces officer tells AFP that troops have moved in to end the siege with force.

AFP correspondent Aymeric Vincenot spoke at the scene with the Kenyan special forces officer, who described cat-and-mouse battles inside the complex:

"I saw them only once, I could not see them much," he says. "It was hide-and-seek, hide-and-seek, hide-and-seek. In the end we had to use full force, we had to finish with these guys."

1124 GMT: In other official Twitter postings, Kenyan authorities seem determined to put up a positive front. One interior ministry post @InteriorKE says: "UNITY: It's in our loyalty pledge. Spread some love, hug a friend, hug a stranger, we're Kenya."

1114 GMT: Security forces have freed some but not all of the hostages in the Nairobi siege, Kenya's police chief says on Twitter.

"Thumbs up to our multi-agency team, we have just managed to rescue some hostages," police chief David Kimaiyo posts. "We're increasingly gaining advantage of the attackers."

1111 GMT: BREAKING NEWS: SOME KENYA HOSTAGES RESCUED, OPERATIONS CONTINUE: POLICE CHIEF.

1109 GMT: Reporter Hannah McNeish is on the ground and tweeting about the latest explosions:

"Military scream fire fire as black smoke pours out of Westgate," she tweets. And in another post: "Sirens screaming and thick black smoke billowing around Westgate."

She's also posted a pictured of smoke rising from the mall.

1055 GMT: Kenya's interior ministry warns people to avoid Westgate "at all costs".

A post on Twitter from InteriorCNG Ministry @InteriorKE says: " Westgate is a crime scene, avoid the area at all costs. We've cordoned off the area and adjacent roads."

1045 GMT: Meanwhile in Britain the Foreign Office says a fourth Briton is among the dead in Kenya.

Two other Brits and a dual British-Australian national had already been confirmed among the fatalities along with two French women, two Canadians, a Chinese woman, two Indians, a South Korean, a South African and a Dutch woman. Also killed was Ghanaian poet and former UN envoy Kofi Awoonor, 78.

1040 GMT: More from AFP's correspondent on the ground who says the area around the mall is teeming with Kenyan soldiers and armoured personnel carriers.

Emergency workers and reporters are told to take cover. Ambulances are seen accelerating towards the scene. Dense black smoke is billowing from the four-storey complex.

1032 GMT: @AFPphoto are tweeting images of the chaotic scene, with emergency workers and volunteers apparently running for cover.

1028 GMT: An AFP reporter at the scene is reporting a series of loud explosions and heavy gunfire,with black smoke billowing from the complex. We'll bring you more on this as we get it.

1022 GMT: BREAKING NEWS: EXPLOSIONS, HEAVY GUNFIRE, BLACK SMOKE AT MALL.

1019 GMT: In other witness accounts today, survivors tell of their terrifying ordeal inside Westgate at the weekend, with some hiding and others playing dead to avoid being shot.

Mall worker Zipporah Wanjiru, who emerged from the ordeal alive but in a state of shock, says she hid under a table with five other colleagues.

"They were shooting indiscriminately, it was like a movie seeing people sprayed with bullets like that," she says, bursting into tears.

1007 GMT: AFP correspondent Helen Vesperini is at Nairobi city mortuary where she says hearses can be seen driving in and out, some smart, some battered.

"Inside, the first thing that hits you is the smell. Bodies are laid out on metal block, there are bloodstains on the floor. Attendants are walking around in white disposable suits," she says.

A group of British embassy officials are there, as well as an expatriate family there to claim a body, Helen reports. She adds: "All social classes are here, from men in suits with iPads to people in cheap clothes and worn down shoes. Everyone is very calm and very dignified."

0958 GMT: Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo issues another upbeat statement, insisting: "We are also closing in on the attackers."

"We have managed to rescue more hostages overnight and very few are remaining."

0953 GMT: Journalists on Twitter have been reporting scenes of panic at the media/triage centre near the mall, with reporters ducking for cover amid fears that one of the militants had escaped. Things appear to have calmed now.

The BBC's Karen Allen (@BBCKarenAllen) tweets: "Moment of panic outside Westgate when feared one of the snipers had escaped from the mall. Journos and emergency crews dive for cover."

Freelance journalist Hannah McNeish tweets: "Blind panic as military don't recognise some guys near Westgate," adding later: "All calm now."

0941 GMT: In case you missed it, there's some incredible footage taken as militants stormed Westgate mall on Saturday on our YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZX4H6gcdeY.

0936 GMT: More on those comments from Abu Omar, who claims to be a Shebab commander... He told the BBC earlier: "There will be no negotiations" with the militants.

"We've spoken to the mujahid inside Westgate and they told us that the Kenyan government was urging them to negotiate and was also giving them some incentives to come to the dialogue table.

"Every mujahid goes out to fight in the only true way... he wants to die for the sake of Allah to achieve martyrdom and that's something which has obviously confounded many Westerners and they have failed to come to terms with that."

0918 GMT: Some astonishing witness accounts reported in The Standard today, including people who say they managed to escape by reciting the Islamic creed -- while those who were unable to were shot.

"When I mentioned the first word of the Shahada (creed), they moved on. That is how I survived," one survivor is quoted as saying.

0911 GMT: Here's what VP Ruto had to say outside the ICC after the judge excused him: "It's really a very trying moment for our country.

"We hope that some people will begin to contextualise and begin to appreciate the challenges that Kenya is going through, the region is going through and the complications that are brought by what is going on here.

"Both myself and the president have committed ourselves to be present here in court so that we can clear our names, but we have to counterbalance our responsibilities and legitimate requirements to 40 million Kenyans."

President Uhuru Kenyatta is also charged with crimes against humanity, and his trial is due to start in November.

Ruto says he hopes to be home this evening to help manage the mall crisis.

0906 GMT: In news from The Hague, the International Criminal Court has excused Kenyan Vice President William Ruto from his crimes against humanity trial for a week so he can deal with the Nairobi attack.

"In the light of the circumstances... the Chamber does excuse Mr Ruto from the proceedings before the court... for one week only," Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji said at an urgent hearing.

Ruto faces charges -- which he strongly denies -- of masterminding some of the 2007-08 post-election violence that left over 1,000 people dead and several hundred thousand displaced.

0859 GMT: British Prime Minister David Cameron has cut short his stay with the Queen at her Scottish Balmoral residence to return to London for an emergency meeting on the Nairobi siege.

The British government's emergency response committee COBRA met for a second time Sunday over the attack as three Britons were said to be among the dead.

0852 GMT: Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku says in a security update that "a few" hostages remain in the mall, but would not give precise figures.

0846 GMT: An alleged commander in the Somali Shebab rebel group has denied press reports that Westerners or women are involved in the hostage standoff.

In a BBC interview, the man, calling himself Abu Omar, claims he has been in contact with attackers inside Westgate mall -- and says they have no intention of negotiating an end to the siege.

"There are some rumours spreading around that say that there have been American, British and other attackers of different nationalities involved," Abu Omar says.

"I can confirm to you that none of that is true, I know that is baseless rumours that have no justification for them."

0840 GMT: More on that breaking news from the Red Cross... The NGO says at least 69 people are confirmed to have been killed and 63 more recorded missing in the ongoing mall siege.

The 63 missing are thought to include both hostages still being held by Islamist militants fighting Kenyan troops inside the complex, as well as those possibly killed in the three-day-long siege.

0834 GMT: BREAKING NEWS: 69 DEAD, 63 MISSING: RED CROSS.

0832 GMT: According to Kenyan reports today in The Standard newspaper, based on security camera footage, around a dozen assailants have been involved in the attack.

The newspaper said the footage confirmed witness accounts that the attackers -- armed with grenades, rifles and pistols and loaded with ammunition -- stormed the mall from both the front and rear.

The biggest group came in through the front entrance and attacked a café with gunfire and a grenade.

0828 GMT: So far this morning, starting at dawn, AFP correspondents at the scene have reported sustained bursts of sporadic gunfire and three big explosions.

Kenyan forces say they are doing everything they can to get the hostages out alive but a spokesman for the Somali Shebab militants earlier threatened to kill the hostages they are holding.

"We authorise the mujahedeen inside the building to take actions against the prisoners as much as they are pressed," Ali Mohamud Rage said in a statement posted on an Islamist website.

0822 GMT: The Kenyan army says it has secured most of the mall and in an overnight statement said it hoped to bring a "speedy conclusion" to a "delicate" operation.

Rebels are believed to be pinned down in part of the sprawling shopping complex but are using hostages as human shields. It's not yet clear how many people are being held.

WELCOME TO AFP'S LIVE REPORT on the Westgate shopping mall siege in Nairobi where Kenyan troops continue to fight Islamist militants who are holding a number of hostages after massacring at least 68 people.

Heavy gunfire and loud explosions erupted at the shopping centre early Monday as the stand-off entered its third day, AFP correspondents at the scene said.

The Kenyan army says it has secured most of the complex, while a security source said a final assault is under way against the Al-Qaeda-linked Somali Shebab rebels, who stormed the centre Saturday, spraying shoppers with machine gun fire and grenades.

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Writer: AFP
Position: News agency