Kenyan troops were locked in a fierce firefight with Somali militants inside an upmarket Nairobi shopping mall on Sunday, in a final push to end a siege that has left 43 dead, including two Indians, and 200 wounded with an unknown number of hostages still being held. Some reports put the number of dead to 59.
Heavy gunfire could be heard as Kenyan security officials said they were attempting to kill or capture the remaining attackers and end the nearly 24-hour-long bloodbath at the Westgate mall.
Somalia's Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab rebels said the carnage at the part Israeli-owned complex was in retaliation for Kenya's military intervention in Somalia, where African Union troops are battling the Islamists.
In a televised address, President Uhuru Kenyatta said he lost "very close family members" in the attack. "Let me make it clear. We shall hunt down the perpetrators wherever they run to. We shall get them. We shall punish them for this heinous crime," he vowed.
Two Indians and a South Korean were among the dead. Paris confirmed that two French citizens were among those killed in what it condemned as a "cowardly" attack.
The Westgate mall is popular with wealthy Kenyans and expatriates, and was packed with around 1,000 shoppers when the gunmen marched in at midday yesterday, tossed grenades and sprayed automatic gunfire on terrified people.
Security agencies have long feared that the shopping centre could be targeted by Al Qaeda-linked groups.
The attack was the worst in Nairobi since an Al-Qaeda bombing at the US embassy killed more than 200 in 1998.
After a day and night of sometimes ferocious gun battles, security sources said police and soldiers had finally "pinned down" the gunmen. The Kenyan Red Cross appealed for blood donations and authorities urged residents to steer clear of the area.
"We are still battling with the attackers and our forces have managed to maroon the attackers on one of the floors," said Kenyan military spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna.
"We still do not know the number of hostages nor the attackers but we hope to bring this to an end today," he said.
"The gunmen tried to fire at my head but missed. I saw at least 50 people shot," mall employee Sudjar Singh said. Fresh gunfire erupted from the shopping mall in Kenya after 30 were killed and 150 injured on Saturday. Two Kenyan security personnel were wounded in the Sunday firing.
Two Indians, including an 8-year-old, were among the 43 killed.
Kenyatta said that hundreds of people were safely evacuated from the mall. He said Kenyans' courage and sympathy saved lives and reassured countless people.
He said security forces were responding to the attack. He called it a delicate operation and said the top priority was to safeguard the lives of those still being held hostage.
Terrified shoppers huddled in back hallways and prayed they would not be found by the Islamic extremist gunmen lobbing grenades and firing assault rifles inside Nairobi's top mall yesterday. When the coast was thought to be clear, crying mothers clutching small children and blood-splattered men sprinted out of the four-story mall.
The al-Qaeda-linked gunmen asked the victims they had cornered if they were Muslim: If the answer was yes, several witnesses said, those people were free to go. The non-Muslims were not.
There are reports of American citizens injured in the attack but the United States State Department said it had no further details.
Ban spoke to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on the phone and extended his condolences to the families of the deceased and the wounded.
A barrage of gunfire erupted from the mall on Sunday morning. Moments later two wounded Kenyan security forces were carried out.
Large numbers of soldiers in helmets and flak jackets, some carrying rocket-propelled grenades, could be seen headed towards the mall.
"This is difficult time for the family and we are trying to find more information. We are in touch with the relevant authorities in the MEA and we appreciate their help. As we decide the next steps, we will appreciate if our privacy, in this difficult hour, is respected," the family reportedly said.
Hostages held in several locations
The Kenyan government has said that hostages are being held in several locations.
While one of the victims 40-year-old Sridhar Natarajan was working with a pharma firm, 8-year-old Paramshu Jain was the son of a manager of the local Bank of Baroda branch, spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs said.
At least two Canadians, including a diplomat, were among those killed. The diplomat was Annemarie Desloges, 29, who worked for Canada's Citizenship and Immigration Department at its embassy in Nairobi.
Modi expresses condolences
Meanwhile, the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narenrda Modi expressed his condolences for those who had lost their lives in the terror attack. He also said the time has come to take steps to wipe out terrorism from the world. Modi was addressing the Indian American community at the conclusion of the two-day national convention of the Overseas Friends of BJP-USA through a live video conference.
Modi also tweeted his condolences:
Condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the Nairobi attack & prayers with the injured.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 22, 2013
Reactions on Twitter following the attack
We in Mumbai know, only too well, what Nairobi citizens are undergoing & the fear&anger they must be experiencing.Our hearts go out to them— anand mahindra (@anandmahindra) September 22, 2013
Indians injured in Nairobi attack : Smt. Manjula Sridhar; Smt. Mukta Jain; Kumari Poorvi Jain;Shri Natarajan Ramachandran #westgate— Syed Akbaruddin (@AkbarMEA) September 22, 2013
Just heard about the terrorist attack in Nairobi :( More innocent lives lost in the name of unjust causes.— Shekhar Ravjiani (@5hekhar) September 22, 2013
Video footage from inside and outside the mall: