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    Official: Kenyan Forces 'Closing In' On Mall Attackers

    Witnesses in Kenya report hearing explosions and gunfire coming from the Nairobi shopping mall where authorities are trying to rescue hostages and end an assault by Islamist gunmen.

    VOA correspondent Gabe Joselow says black smoke is rising from the Westgate Mall, and that Kenyan military forces went running toward the mall after the explosions.

    Earlier, Kenyan Police Inspector-General David Kimaiyo said on Twitter that "very few" hostages remain, and that authorities are "closing in on the attackers."

    The military began an assault Sunday night on the upscale Westgate Mall. Kenya's Red Cross says 69 people have been killed since gunmen stormed the mall on Saturday. Another 175 people have been wounded and dozens of people were registered as missing.



    The Somali terrorist group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it is in retaliation for Kenya's military intervention in Somalia. An al-Shabab spokesman said in an audio message, "Either leave our country or live with constant attacks."

    Kenyan forces entered Somalia two years ago to fight al-Shabab militants who often had crossed the border to stage attacks.

    President Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed to stand firm against the threat of terrorism and punish those behind the attack "swiftly" and "very painfully."

    The president said Sunday that his nephew and his nephew's fiancee were among those killed in the attack, and that he feels the pain of every life that was lost.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with his Kenyan counterpart Sunday. Kerry called the attack "an enormous offense against everybody's sense of right and wrong.''

    The U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also strongly condemned the attack. Mr. Ban called it a "premeditated" and "totally reprehensible" act targeting defenseless civilians.

    Among those killed in the attack were three British nationals, as well as nationals from France, Canada, China, India and South Korea. The United States says no Americans were killed, but that some have been wounded.

    U.S. President Barack Obama called President Kenyatta Sunday to express his condolences and reaffirm the U.S. commitment with Kenya to fight terrorism.

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