Kenya's president says at least 39 people have been killed following an attack by heavily-armed gunmen in an upscale shopping mall in the capital, Nairobi. More than 150 others were wounded.
President Uhuru Kenyatta sought to reassure his people on Saturday, addressing the nation just hours after the morning attack, claimed by the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab. The president condemned what he called the cowardly act and praised Kenyans for their solidarity in the face of the terrorist threat.
"Terrorism in and of itself is the philosophy of cowards. The way we lead our lives in freedom, unity and consideration for each other represents our victory over those who wish us ill."
President Kenyatta vowed that the perpetrators will be caught and dealt with. He said the government stands ready to defend the country from within and from outside. Kenyan forces entered Somalia two years ago to fight al-Shabab militants who had often crossed the border to stage attacks.
Gunmen opened fire and tossed hand grenades at the Westgate Mall in the nation's capital during busy shopping hours. France says two of its citizens were killed in the attack. Children were among the wounded.
The Interior Ministry's permanent secretary, Mutea Iringo, told reporters in Nairobi that security forces gained access to the mall several hours after the attack began and were evacuating civilians and searching for the attackers.
"The specialized security services have at the moment gained access into the building and are now evacuating civilians from the mall and searching for the criminals."
Officials said they believed the attackers were hiding inside the mall, but there were concerns that some of the 10 or more gunmen escaped by mingling with shoppers fleeing the building.
One survivor who had been trapped inside the mall for several hours said he heard leaders of the attack speaking in a language he did not understand.
Al-Shabab claimed in messages posted on Twitter that its "mujahideen" carried out the assault in retaliation for Kenya's military intervention in Somalia.
Al-Shabab said it had warned in the past that Kenya's military presence in Somalia would bring "severe consequences." The militants said on Twitter that the bloodshed at the mall in Nairobi is only a "very tiny fraction" of the violence that has been inflicted on Muslims in Somalia.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said there are reports of Americans injured in the attack, but no further details were immediately available. She condemned what she called a "senseless act of violence."
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm about the attack and spoke to the Kenyan president about it.