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Kenya mall attack: Two terrorists killed as siege nears end

September 23, 2013|By Robyn Dixon

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Two terrorists holed up in a Nairobi shopping mall were killed Monday morning, and others were injured, according to Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku.

The news came during the third day of a siege that began when terrorists attacked the Westgate shopping center, killing at least 62 people and taking hostages.

Lenku told a news conference that government forces were in control of all the floors of the mall and had cordoned off the building so that there would be no escape for the 10 to 15 terrorists believed to be inside.

PHOTOS: Kenya mall attack

A series of blasts rocked the mall about lunchtime Monday, and a pall of black smoke poured from the building as heavy gunfire intensified. The Kenyan military late Sunday announced the beginning of the final assault to dislodge the terrorists who had attacked the upscale shopping center Saturday, throwing grenades, firing shots and killing people at random.

Lenku said security forces believed that very few hostages remained in the building, but he did not give a number.

"All floors now are under our control. We have fully cordoned off the building so that there's no room for escape. We are in charge of the floors, and we think the operation will come to an end soon," he said.

A Somali terror group, Al Shabab, has claimed responsibility for the attack, and a spokesman for the group said Monday that hostages would be killed if there was an assault by Kenyan forces.

Lenku said 62 people had died in the attack. The Kenya Red Cross earlier said that the death toll was 69 but on Monday revised the toll to 62, saying some bodies had been double-counted.

About 175 people were wounded in the attack, but the interior minister said most of the wounded had gone home from hospitals, with about 50 still being treated.

The commander of the operation, Gen. Julius Karangi, said the terrorists were a "multinational collection. We are fighting global terrorism here." He declined to give details on where the terrorists were from.

As the building continued to burn and thick black smoke billowed from the building, Karangi said the terrorists hiding in a supermarket on the ground floor had set mattresses on fire to create a diversion, in a bid to escape.

Around lunchtime, as the operation suddenly intensified, armed personnel carriers and soldiers moved in. Ambulances were on the scene, and fire trucks also moved in as the smoke thickened.

Lenku discounted reports that U.S., Israeli and British forces were involved in the operation, assisting Kenyan forces.

"The operation is our national security operation. We have received a lot of goodwill support from our friends, various countries, but so far we are carrying out the operation ourselves," he said.

Lenku said all the attackers were men but that some has entered the mall dressed as women.

He said he expected the operation to clear the mall to be over soon.

"The process is getting a little long because we want to make sure our people, both security forces and hostages if there are any in the building, are safely protected," he said.

"Let us remain calm. Our forces are in full control of the situation."

Lenku confirmed that 10 Kenyan forces were injured in the operation but said none were killed.

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Twitter: @latimesdixon

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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