UPDATE 7-Smoke pours from Kenya mall as forces "close in"

Mon Sep 23, 2013 9:02am EDT
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* Loud blasts, then thick smoke billows from mall

* Interior minister says militants started fire, siege nears end

* Some gunmen dressed as women, no women among attackers

* Unclear how many hostages being held, death toll at least 62

* Somali Islamists linked to al Qaeda claim responsibility

* Group wants withdrawal of Kenyan troops from Somalia

By Matthew Mpoke Bigg and James Macharia

NAIROBI, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Thick smoke poured from the besieged Nairobi mall where Kenyan officials said their forces were closing in on Islamists holding hostages on Monday, three days after a raid by Somalia's al Shabaab killed at least 62 people.

It remained unclear how many gunmen and hostages were still cornered in the Westgate shopping centre, two hours after a series of loud explosions and gunfire were followed by a plume of black smoke, that grew in volume from one part of the complex.   Continued...