Security forces have freed some hostages in the Nairobi shopping mall siege, Kenya's police chief said shortly after a series of loud blasts. The siege at the Westgate mall in Nairobi is in its third day.
Police announced that they would continue to move in on the attackers at the Nairobi mall. They have given no estimate for how many hostages remain inside.
"Thumbs up to our multiagency team, we have just managed to rescue some hostages," police chief David Kimaiyo wrote in a message on Twitter on Monday, the third day of the standoff. "We're increasingly gaining advantage of the attackers."
In apparent retaliation for Kenyan military actions against Islamists in Somalia, Al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militants attacked the mall on Saturday, throwing grenades, firing machine guns at shoppers, and ultimately killing 69 people. Upon entering the shopping center, the militants reportedly specifically targeted non-Muslims. They have since been holed up in the building with hostages and are surrounded by Kenyan security forces.
As police announced successes on Monday, news agencies reported multiple large blasts and a barrage of gunfire. Black and grey smoke rose up from the mall.
Kenya's Interior Minister Joseph Lenku said at a press conference that two of the gunmen had been killed.
'A speedy conclusion'
Security forces tweeted Sunday that they would launch an operation to end the assault. However, the security forces did not announce how many assailants remained in the building.
"Most of the hostages have been rescued and security forces have taken control of most parts of the building," the Kenya Defence Forces wrote. "All efforts are under way to bring this matter to a speedy conclusion."
Early Monday, the Kenya Red Cross announced that 63 people remained missing, believed to include hostages as well as people killed during the three-day siege. Lenku said that "a few" hostages remain in the mall, but would not give exact figures.
Al-Shabab has threatened to kill the hostages if the military or police use force. However, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta promised in a nationwide address Sunday that the attackers would "not get away with their despicable acts."
"We will punish the masterminds swiftly, and indeed very painfully," he said, revealing that his nephew and nephew's fiancee were among those killed.
Toll could rise
The Westgate mall, which is located in a wealthy area of Nairobi where many UN workers and diplomats live, is frequented by many foreign nationals in the city.
Both Kenyans and foreigners were confirmed dead in the attack, with British, French, Indian, Canadian, Dutch, Ghanaian and Chinese citizens reported among those killed. More than 175 people were injured in the siege, and officials said the death toll could rise after security forces have had the opportunity to conduct a complete search of the complex.
It is the deadliest attack in Kenya since 200 people were killed in the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi by al Qaeda's East Africa cell.
On Monday, the International Criminal Court suspended the atrocities trial of Kenya's vice president, William Ruto, for one week while the country deals with the hostage situation.
mkg/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)