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Dozens feared dead in mall attack
Around 30 people are feared dead following a terrorist attack on an upmarket shopping centre in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
Somali-based militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the atrocity in which men armed with guns and grenades stormed the mall and targeted non-Muslims.
Dozens were reportedly being held hostage by the gang in the Westgate Mall, in the affluent Westlands district of the city, which is popular with expats.
Fears that Britons were caught up in the attack were confirmed as Sir Simon Fraser, the Foreign Office's chief civil servant and head of the Diplomatic Service, posted on Twitter: "@foreignoffice (The Foreign Office) and @UKinKenya (British High Commission) working hard on Nairobi shooting and hostage crisis to help all involved esp Brits." British nationals have been told to avoid the Westlands district of Nairobi in the wake of the attack. A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are aware of the incident at the Westgate Mall shopping centre, and we are urgently looking into it. We stand ready to provide consular assistance if there are any British nationals involved." The Foreign Office updated the travel advice on its website to say: "British nationals should avoid the area".
Hannah Chisholm, a Briton visiting Nairobi, said she and 60 others barricaded themselves into a large storeroom. She told the BBC: "We kept running to different places but the shots were getting louder so we barricaded ourselves along with about 60 others into a large storeroom. There were children hiding with us as well as someone who had been shot." She added: "The gunfire was loud and we were scared but at that point we thought the gunmen were thieves so we assumed they wouldn't try to reach the storeroom."
Al-Shabaab, also known as Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM), appeared to claim responsibility for the atrocity by writing on its official Twitter feed that "the Mujahideen entered Westgate Mall today at around noon". It said it had previously warned the Kenyan government that if they did not remove military forces from Somalia, there would be "severe consequences". "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," it tweeted. "The Mujahideen entered Westgate Mall today at around noon and are still inside the mall, fighting the Kenyan Kuffar inside their own turf." The organisation claimed it had killed more than 100 Kenyan "Kuffar", a derogatory term used to describe non-Muslims.
Nairobi's mortuary superintendent, Sammy Nyongesa Jacob, said Africans, Asians and Caucasians were among the 23 bodies brought in following the attack.
A Downing Street spokesman said David Cameron had spoken to the president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta. "President Kenyatta updated the Prime Minister on the current situation and explained that Kenyan security forces were bringing the situation under control. The Prime Minister passed on his sincere condolences and assured President Kenyatta that our thoughts were with him and all the people of Kenya at this difficult time. The Prime Minister said we were ready to provide any assistance we could."
The gunmen threw grenades and then opened fire, sending shoppers and staff fleeing for their lives. One witness to the attack claimed the gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted. Elijah Kamau said the gunmen made the statement about Muslims as they began their attack. Groups of people trapped inside the mall came streaming out over the course of an hour. Many were injured. Some carried children in their arms. Desperate staff from the mall used trolleys to wheel out wounded children and at least one man. Witnesses spoke of the attackers lobbing hand grenades and opening fire as terrified shoppers dropped to the ground. Manish Turohit, 18, said he saw gunmen with AK-47s and vests with hand grenades on them. Initial reports suggested the attack may have been a bank robbery gone wrong. But Nairobi police chief Benson Kibue said it was a terrorist attack. Soldiers and armed police were still surrounding the mall hours after the midday attack.
Kenya has seen a rise in terror attacks and threats in recent years, some of which are believed to be in retaliation for a military crackdown on al-Shabaab. The attacks often involve gunmen armed with automatic weapons and grenades, and their targets include bars, nightclubs and restaurants in various parts of the country. There was a suspected al-Shabaab attack which left five dead and three injured at a restaurant in the eastern city of Garissa in January, and in August last year one person was killed and six more were left injured in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi on the eve of a visit by Hillary Clinton, then the US secretary of state. Last month 18 US embassies and consulates across the Middle East and Africa were closed after a message between al Qaida officials about plans for a major terror attack was intercepted.