NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A Kenyan military spokesman today said that the fate of hostages inside a mall besieged by al-Qaida-linked terrorists was not clear despite earlier statements that “most” hostages had been rescued.
Military helicopters circled over the mall at daybreak, when about five minutes of sustained gunfire broke out at the mall, a clear indication that at least one of the estimated 10 to 15 gunmen who attacked the mall when it was filled with shoppers Saturday was still on the loose.
A large military assault began on the mall shortly before sundown on Sunday, with one helicopter skimming very close to the roof of the shopping complex as a loud explosion rang out, far larger than any previous grenade blast or gunfire volley. Officials said the siege would soon end and said “most” hostages had been rescued and that officials controlled “most” of the mall.
But officials never said how many hostages had been rescued, and Kenya’s military spokesman today was still not able to provide clear details.
“We are yet to get confirmation from what’s happening in the building,” Col. Cyrus Oguna, a Kenyan military spokesman, told The Associated Press.
Late on Sunday, Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Centre said on Twitter that “this will end tonight. Our forces will prevail.”
Late on Sunday, Oguna said that many of the rescued hostages — whom he said were mostly adults — were suffering from dehydration. An Associated Press reporter at a triage center next to the mall said no hostages ever showed up there.
As the crisis neared the 48-hour mark, video taken by someone inside the mall’s main department store when the assault began emerged. The video showed frightened and unsure shoppers crouching as long and loud volleys of gunfire could be heard.
The assault came about 30 hours after 10 to 15 al-Shabab extremists stormed the mall Saturday from two sides, throwing grenades and firing on civilians.
Loud exchanges of gunfire rang out from inside the four-story mall throughout Sunday. Kenyan troops were seen carrying in at least two rocket-propelled grenades. Al-Shabab militants reacted angrily to the helicopters on Twitter and warned that the Kenyan military action was endangering hostages.
Kenyan authorities said they would do their utmost to save hostages’ lives, but no officials could say precisely how many people were being held captive. Kenya’s Red Cross said in a statement, citing police, that 49 people had been reported missing. Officials did not make an explicit link but that number could give an indication of the number of people held captive.
Kenya’s Red Cross said the death toll rose to 68 after nine bodies were recovered Sunday. More than 175 people were injured, including many children, Kenyan officials said.