NAIROBI — Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta says the country’s security forces are in a position to “neutralize” the attackers who laid siege to a shopping mall Saturday in Nairobi and continue to hold hostages. The government says 59 people have been killed and at least 175 wounded in the attack, blamed on a Somali terrorist group.
In an address Sunday to a nation traumatized by the ongoing attack, Kenyatta said the criminals responsible were cornered in one section of the multi-story Westgate shopping center.
The government says 10 to 15 assailants are inside the building with an unknown number of civilian hostages.
Sporadic firing of gunshots and explosions were heard throughout the day. Military and police helicopters buzzed the roof of the shopping center late Sunday afternoon, but flew away as night fell.
Kenyatta urged the country to stay united in the face of tragedy, and promised to remain steadfast in the war on terror. “We will continue that fight and we urge all people of goodwill throughout the world to join us and to ensure that we uproot this evil," he said.
The Somali terror group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the siege, suggesting in messages on Twitter that it is retaliation for Kenya’s military operations targeting the militants in southern Somalia.
Witnesses say men and women were among the attackers who stormed the upscale shopping mall at mid-day Saturday, firing AK-47s and throwing hand grenades at anyone in their path.
Messages on social media sites in Kenya mourned the deaths of loved ones killed in the violence. Kenyatta said his own family suffered a painful loss. “My nephew and his fiancée were amongst those who died in this attack. These were young lovely people who I personally knew and loved. Many of us lost loved ones," he said.
The White House says President Barack Obama called Mr. Kenyatta Sunday to express his condolences and to “reiterate U.S. support for Kenya’s efforts to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice.”
The U.S. Embassy said Americans were among those injured in the assault on the mall that is popular with foreigners. At least three British citizens were killed according to the Foreign Office.