Al-Shabaab says mall toll ‘countless’
NAIROBI: Somalia’s al-Shabaab Islamist group said yesterday its militants were still holed up in a Kenyan shopping mall they attacked at the weekend and there were ‘‘countless dead bodies’’, raising fears the death toll could be higher than 62.
Kenyan security forces were searching for the al-Qaeda-linked attackers who are believed by Western sources to include Americans and possibly a British woman. Al-Shabaab rejected suggestions that foreigners were involved.
Sporadic bursts of gunfire and an explosion marked the fourth day since the militants stormed into the Westgate centre in Nairobi during a busy Saturday lunchtime, spraying bullets and lobbing grenades.
Al-Shabaab says it launched the attack to demand Kenya withdraw troops from Somalia, where they have battled the Islamist group. President Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed to stay the course there.
The attack has come at a time when several violent Islamist groups from Mali to Algeria, Nigeria to Kenya — tapping into local grievances but all espousing an anti-Western, anti-Christian creed — are striking at state and international interests.
As Kenyan authorities asserted the end of the siege was ‘‘very near’’, al-Shabaab said its militants were still holding out in the Westgate centre and their hostages were still alive.
‘‘There are countless number of dead bodies still scattered inside the mall, and the [fighters] are still holding their ground,’’ the group said on its Twitter feed.
The Interior Ministry earlier said security forces were in control of the mall and that all the hostages had been released.
A trickle of survivors left on Monday, but the fate of those still missing was unclear. It was also unclear how many of the militants had been killed or captured.
An army spokesman said 11 soldiers had been admitted to hospital, and of that number, three had died.
A British security source said it was possible that Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of Germaine Lindsay, one of the suicide bombers who killed more than 50 people on London’s transport system in 2005, was involved in the Nairobi siege.
When asked about reports that Lewthwaite, dubbed the ‘‘White Widow’’ by the British media, was involved in the attack in Kenya, the source said: ‘‘It is a possibility. But nothing definitive or conclusive yet.’’
Ms Lewthwaite is thought to have left Britain several years ago and is wanted in connection with an alleged plot to attack hotels and restaurants in Kenya.