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Kenya mall shooting may be a ‘terrorist incident’, officials say

Terrified children wait by the body of a man after escaping from the Westgate mall as police search for gunmen inside     Terrified children wait by the body of a man after escaping from the Westgate mall as police search for gunmen inside

Terrified children wait by the body of a man after escaping from the Westgate mall as police search for gunmen inside

Gunmen burst into a shopping mall in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, and opened fire Saturday, killing at least 20 people and leaving scores injured, the Red Cross reported.

Gunfire is ongoing and armed police are at the Westgate mall, which is popular with wealthy Kenyans and expatriates. The gunmen are reported to be carrying assault rifles and wearing combat fatigues.

Police and security guards told AFP news agency that the gunmen have also taken at least seven hostages.

“They’re still bringing people out on stretchers, and clearing people out from inside the mall,” freelance reporter Alan Boswell told Al Jazeera from outside the mall.

“All reports say the attackers are still inside the mall,” he added.

Kenya’s Red Cross reported that more than 50 people were wounded in the attack, with the number likely to increase.

Bursts of gunfire were heard midday from outside Westgate shopping mall, where shoppers ran for cover and left cars abandoned. Witnesses said six grenades also went off along with lobbies of AK-47 gunfire.

“It’s not absolutely clear who the gunmen are … but this may be what officials are calling a ‘terrorist incident’,” Al Jazeera correspondent Andrew Simmons said.

“This mall is a prestigious place — with designer shops, a cinema, it’s a place you would naturally go to on a Saturday,” he added.

Witnesses said they saw about five armed assailants storm the mall, and that the incident appeared to be an attack rather than an armed robbery. Others said more attackers may have entered from different areas in a coordinated strike.

“It’s not ordinary thugs … this country has had problems with terrorists before, from Somalia and from inside Kenya,” Billow Kerrow, a senator from Mandera County in Nairobi, told Al Jazeera.

“This is a terrorist attack on a three-story mall with hundreds of shops on a Saturday with hundreds of people inside — reports say they came in shooting, aiming a people deliberately,” he added.

While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, Kenya — which sent troops into Somalia in late 2011 to pursue al-Qaeda-linked fighters — has suffered a string of retaliatory gun and grenade attacks claimed by the armed group al-Shabaab.

Last month, four Kenyan police officers were shot dead in the border county of Garissa when 40 heavily armed men, suspected of belonging to al-Shabaab, attacked a police post, a senior regional government official said.

In July, al-Shabaab released two Kenyan government officials it had seized in a 2012 cross-border attack, after holding them hostage in Somalia for more than a year.

-Aljazeera

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