The death toll from an attack on a Nairobi shopping mall has climbed to 39. An Islamist extremist group has claimed responsibility for the attack, in which gunmen continued to hold hostages late into the night.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta used a nationally televised address on Saturday to pledge that the perpetrators of the attack would be captured and brought to justice.
"Our security forces are in the process of neutralising the attackers and securing the mall," Kenyatta said almost 12 hours after the attack had begun.
The president also said that members of his family were among the 39 people killed in the attack, but that this had done nothing to weaken his resolve.
"They want to cause fear and despondency in our country, but we will not be cowed," he said, adding that "terrorism is a philosophy of cowards."
The “they” he referred to were Somali al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militants, who used the micro-blogging website Twitter to claim responsibility for the attack.
"The Kenyan govt is pleading with our Mujahideen (holy warriors) inside the mall for negotiations," one of the Twitter statements said. "There will be no negotiations whatsoever at #Westgate."
Another tweet indicated that the attack was meant as retaliation for the Kenyan armed forces' involvement in Somalia, where African Union troops have been battling against the Islamist al-Shabab for the past two years.
"For long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land, now it's time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land," the posting said.
Shortly after the shooting began, Kenyan security forces rushed to the scene, entering the mall and engaging the gunmen in sometimes ferocious gun battles. They also managed to evacuate hundreds of people from the upscale shopping center, which is frequented by many foreign nationals in Nairobi.
French President Francois Hollande's office said late on Saturday that two French women were among the 39 killed in the attacks. An estimated 150 other people have been injured.
An unknown number of gunmen were believed to be holding hostages in the shopping center late into the night.
pfd/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP)