At least 20 people killed and seven hostages held after gunmen take over Kenyan shopping centre.
A gunbattle inside a shopping centre in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, has left at least 20 people dead and more than 50 injured, according to the Kenyan Red Cross.
Kenyan troops and elite units have joined police fighting gunmen in Nairobi’s upmarket Westgate shopping centre, where helicopters are also flying overhead.
Smoke is rising from the shopping complex where gunfire is being exchanged with gunmen at the shopping centre in the Westlands district – one of the city’s most exclusive shopping malls. The gunmen are reported to be carrying assault rifles and wearing combat fatigues.
Police and security guards, who are calling the siege a “terrorist incident”, told the AFP news agency that gunmen have also taken at least seven hostages.
One witness who spoke to Al Jazeera from inside the mall said the centre was busy with Saturday afternoon shoppers when gunfire erupted.
Another witness said the attackers threw grenades into the building at about midday local time (09:00 GMT).
Unverified witness accounts have indicated that the attackers targeted non-Muslims and foreigners.
Police said they had surrounded the Westgate mall, which is popular with wealthy Kenyans and expatriates, and urged residents to stay away from the area.
‘Not ordinary thugs’
Alan Boswell, a freelance reporter who has been outside the shopping centre, told Al Jazeera that a strong firefight broke out earlier, and that there are still people being evacuated from the mall, some on stretchers.
“Many of them are quite terrified – they’re crying, they’re clutching their children,” said Boswell.
An unknown number of attackers, he said, were still inside and in control of certain parts of the mall, where a heavy security presence remains.
“There’s been no indication that [the situation] is under control,” said Boswell.
One report says 80 people are trapped in the basement. Police say they have managed to escort some shoppers to safety but are still trying to capture the gunmen.
Billow Kerrow, a senator from Mandera County in Nairobi, said it is still unknown who the attackers are.
“It’s too early to know what kind of people these are, but from what we are getting, these are people who speak in the Swahili language,” said Kerrow.
“They are people who seem to know what they are doing, are pretty much organised. It’s really quite a shocking thing because from what we’re getting, they aren’t ordinary thugs,” he said.
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