NAIROBI, KENYA — Kenyan security forces were in the final stages of flushing out al-Qaida-linked terrorists from a besieged shopping center, the vice president said late Monday, two days after the upscale mall was seized by members of a Somali terrorist group that invaded with guns blazing.
The country’s interior minister said it was unlikely that any more hostages remained inside Westgate Mall.
Three attackers had been killed in the fighting Monday, officials said, and more than 10 suspects arrested. Eleven Kenyan soldiers were wounded in the running gun battles. By evening, Kenyan security officials were claiming the upper hand.
“Taken control of all the floors. We’re not here to feed the attackers with pastries but to finish and punish them,” Police Inspector General David Kimaiyo said on Twitter.
Kenya’s interior minister said the evacuation of hostages “has gone very, very well” and that Kenyan officials are “very certain” that there are few if any hostages left in the building.
Vice President William Ruto landed in Kenya late Monday after International Criminal Court officials in The Hague gave him permission to return to Kenya. Ruto is on trial for crimes against humanity charges over allegations he helped orchestrate Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence.
Ruto said security forces were in the final stages of flushing out any remaining terrorists inside the mall.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku also revised the death toll to 62. Kenyan officials earlier said 59 people have died since the siege on Westgate Mall began on Saturday, while the Red Cross had put the toll at 68, then in a tweet lowered it to 62, saying some bodies had been counted twice.
Dark plumes of smoke rose from the mall for more than an hour after four large explosions rocked the upscale Westlands neighborhood. A person with knowledge of the rescue operation told The Associated Press that the smoke was rising up and out of a large skylight inside the mall’s main department and grocery store, Nakumatt, where goods like mattresses may have been lit on fire.
Kenya Chief of Defense forces Gen. Julius Karangi said fighters from an array of nations participated in the attack claimed by al-Shabab.
“We have an idea who these people are and they are clearly a multinational collection from all over the world,” he said.
Karangi said Kenyan forces were in charge of all floors inside the mall, though terrorists could still be hiding inside. Earlier witness reports had indicated that a woman was among the estimated 10 to 15 attackers. Lenku said that instead some male attackers had dressed up like women.
The four explosions were followed by volleys of gunfire, then a thick, dark column of smoke that burned for roughly 90 minutes. Military and police helicopters and one plane circled over the Nairobi mall, giving the upscale neighborhood the feel of a war zone.
Kenyans and foreigners were among those confirmed dead, including British, French, Canadians, Indians, a Ghanaian, a South African and a Chinese woman. The UK Foreign Office said Monday it has confirmed the deaths of four British nationals.