Islamist gunmen hold hostages in Kenya siege after 68 killed

Sun Sep 22, 2013 6:43pm EDT
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* 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 (Reuters) - 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 years.

"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."   Continued...