* Somali Islamists linked to al Qaeda claim attack
* Group wants withdrawal of Kenyan troops from Somalia
* Unclear how many hostages being held
By Duncan Miriri and James Macharia
NAIROBI, Sept 23 Kenya said its security forces
were in control of most of the Nairobi shopping mall where at
least 68 people were killed by Somali al Shabaab Islamists, but
gunmen still appeared to be holding hostages as the siege
entered its third day on Monday.
Referring to an operation under way since early on Sunday,
following the storming of the upmarket Westgate mall at
lunchtime the previous day, a military spokesman said most of
those who had been in the complex were now free.
He made no mention of killing or capturing militants but
said commanders hoped to end the operation "very, very soon".
Reuters journalists outside the mall heard only very occasional
gunfire and an explosion. There was no clear word on the fate of
people said to be held by a dozen or so gunmen in a supermarket.
Al Shabaab in Somalia said its fighters were demanding Kenya
pull out troops from its northern neighbour, where they have put
the al Qaeda-affiliated group on the defensive in the past two
"Most of the hostages have been released, and the Kenya
Defence Forces has taken control of most parts of the building,"
Colonel Cyrus Oguna told local station KTN, giving no details.
He told Britain's Sky News late on Sunday: "A large number of
hostages have been rescued since this morning."
Earlier, as people continued to emerge from hiding while
troops and police moved to secure the sprawling complex,
officials said concern now focused on a large supermarket where
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said 10 to 15 guerrillas, some
possibly women, were holding an unspecified number of people.
Kenyatta declined to comment on whether captives there had
been wired up to explosives.
Survivors' tales of Saturday's military-style, lunchtime
assault by squads of gunmen hurling grenades and spraying
automatic fire, left little doubt the hostage-takers are willing
to kill. Previous such raids around the world suggest they may
also be ready to die with their captives.
Military spokesman Oguna said the government's position was
clear: "We will not negotiate with terrorists."
It was unclear how many may be held by the guerrillas
barricaded in the supermarket. A Kenyan TV station said it might
be 30. A number of escapes on Sunday, by survivors who had spent
up to a full day hiding in terror, suggested some people may be
trapped but not captive.
Kenyatta, who himself lost a nephew in the killing, vowed to
hold firm in what he called the "war on terror" in Somalia and
said, cautiously, that Kenyan forces could end the siege.
"I assure Kenyans that we have as good a chance to
successfully neutralise the terrorists as we can hope for," he
said. Adding that more than 175 people were wounded, he pledged:
"We will punish the masterminds swiftly and painfully."
But a military spokesman for al Shabaab told Reuters his
group had nothing to fear. "Where will Uhuru Kenyatta get the
power with which he threatened us?" said Sheikh Abdiasis Abu
It was unclear who the assailants were. Al Shabaab - the
name means "The Lads" in Arabic - has thousands of Somali
fighters but has also attracted foreigners to fight against
Western and African Union efforts to establish stable
With the stocks of a major supermarket at their disposal -
the Nakumatt store is part of one of Kenya's biggest chains -
the gunmen could be in a position to hold on for a long time.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, confirming that at
least three Britons were already among the dead, said: "We
should prepare ourselves for further bad news."
U.S. President Barack Obama called Kenyatta to offer
condolences and support. Officials in Israel,
whose citizens own several stores in the mall and have been
targeted by Islamists in Kenya before, said Israeli experts were
also advising Kenyan forces.
Foreigners including a French mother and daughter and two
diplomats, from Canada and Ghana, were killed. The Ghanaian,
Kofi Awoonor, was also a renowned poet. Other victims came from
China and the Netherlands. Five Americans were wounded.
Scores of Kenyans gathered on Sunday at a site overlooking
the mall, awaiting what they expected to be a violent
denouement. "They entered through blood, that's how they'll
leave," said Jonathan Maungo, a private security guard.
Kenya's president, son of post-colonial leader Jomo
Kenyatta, is facing his first major security challenge since
being elected in March. He urged Western governments not to warn
their tourists off visiting a country that needs their money.
The assault was the biggest single attack in Kenya since al
Qaeda's East Africa cell bombed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in
1998, killing more than 200 people.
Al Shabaab's siege underlined its ability to cause major
disruptions with relatively limited resources, even after Kenyan
and other African troops drove it from Somali cities.
"While the group has grown considerably weaker in terms of
being able to wage a conventional war, it is now ever more
capable of carrying out asymmetric warfare," said Abdi Aynte,
director of Mogadishu's Heritage Institute of Policy Studies.
The dead in Saturday's assault included children, and the
wounded ranged in age from 2 to 78. More than 1,000 people were
evacuated by security forces combing the mall, littered with
shattered glass and pools of blood.
After emerging on Sunday morning from a hiding place under a
vehicle in the basement car park, a woman, giving her name as
Cecilia, told Reuters by telephone she had seen three of the
"They were shooting from the exit ramp, shooting
everywhere," she said. "I saw people being shot all around me,
some with blood pouring from bad wounds. I was just praying,
praying 'God, keep me alive' and that my day hadn't come."
Witnesses said the attackers had AK-47 rifles and wore
ammunition belts. One militant was shot and arrested early on in
the siege, but died shortly afterwards.
For hours after the attack, the dead were strewn around
tables of unfinished meals. At one burger restaurant, a man and
woman lay in a final embrace, until their bodies were removed.
Kenya sent troops into Somalia in October 2011 to pursue
militants whom it accused of kidnapping tourists and attacking
its security forces.
Al Shabaab's last big attack outside Somalia was a twin
assault in nearby Uganda, targeting people watching the World
Cup final on television in Kampala in 2010, killing 77 people.