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Death toll hits 59 in Kenya mall attack; standoff drags on

September 22, 2013|By Robyn Dixon
  • An image grab from AFP TV shows a police officer taking a position in a Nairobi mall after gunmen attacked.
An image grab from AFP TV shows a police officer taking a position in a Nairobi… (Nichole Sobecki / AFP/Getty…)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Gunfire rang out at the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, on Sunday, as a government official reported 59 dead and 175 wounded in the previous day's terror attack.

As the siege continued, the gunmen continued to hold an unknown number of hostages, according to officials, while other civilians were believed to be hiding in the building.

But there were fears the death toll could mount sharply after the Kenyan Red Cross Society announced Sunday that 49 people were missing and unaccounted for. The estimate was based on interviews with relatives of those believed still inside the building.

"The priority is to save as many lives as possible," said Joseph Lenku, Cabinet secretary at the Interior Ministry, at a news conference Sunday.

Police and military surrounded the building, and authorities claimed to have the CCTV control room in the shopping mall under control.

Among the dead were a well-known Kenyan radio personality; two Canadians, including a diplomat; and renowned Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor. The U.S. State Department has reported Americans were among the injured.

The Al Qaeda-linked Somali militant group Shabab has claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack in a series of tweets, saying it was revenge for Kenya’s push into Somalia in 2011.

"The attack at #WestGateMall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders," the group’s media office said in one tweet.

The group also ruled out negotiations with Kenyan authorities on the release of hostages.

President Uhuru Kenyatta was to give a news conference in Nairobi on Sunday afternoon.

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesdixon

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