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Fears for Britons in Kenya attack
At least 22 people have been killed in a suspected terrorist attack on an upmarket shopping mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
There were unconfirmed reports of more than 30 people being held hostage by the gang, who were armed with guns and grenades and had threatened to target non-Muslims, according to a witness.
Fears that Britons were caught up in the attack were confirmed as Sir Simon Fraser, the Foreign Office's chief civil servant and head of the Diplomatic Service, posted on Twitter: "@foreignoffice (The Foreign Office) and @UKinKenya (British High Commission) working hard on Nairobi shooting and hostage crisis to help all involved esp Brits." However, no further details were released.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "appalled" by the attack, adding: "My thoughts are with everyone affected by it. We are in close touch with Kenyan authorities about the attack in Nairobi. Our urgent priority is the welfare of UK nationals in Kenya." A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister spoke to the president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, late this afternoon about the attack at Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi."
The atrocity was in the Westgate Mall, in the affluent Westlands district of Nairobi, which is popular with expats. The gunmen threw grenades and then opened fire, sending shoppers and staff fleeing for their lives. One witness to the attack claimed the gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted. Elijah Kamau said the gunmen made the statement about Muslims as they began their attack.
Groups of people trapped inside the mall came streaming out over the course of an hour. Many were injured. Some carried children in their arms. Desperate staff from the mall used trolleys to wheel out wounded children and at least one man. Witnesses spoke of the attackers lobbing hand grenades and opening fire as terrified shoppers dropped to the ground. Manish Turohit, 18, said he saw gunmen with AK-47s and vests with hand grenades on them. Initial reports suggested the attack may have been a bank robbery gone wrong. But Nairobi police chief Benson Kibue said it was a terrorist attack. Soldiers and armed police were still surrounding the mall hours after the midday attack.
Kenya has seen a rise in terror attacks and threats in recent years, some of which are believed to be in retaliation for a military crackdown on the Somali-based militant group al-Shabab, which vowed to retaliate with a large-scale attack on Nairobi. The attacks often involve gunmen armed with automatic weapons and grenades, and their targets include bars, nightclubs and restaurants in various parts of the country. There was a suspected al-Shabab attack which left five dead and three injured at a restaurant in the eastern city of Garissa in January, and in August last year one person was killed and six more were left injured in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi on the eve of a visit by Hillary Clinton, then the United States secretary of state. Last month 18 US embassies and consulates across the Middle East and Africa were closed after a message between al Qaida officials about plans for a major terror attack was intercepted.
British nationals have been told to avoid the Westlands district of Nairobi in the wake of the attack. A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are aware of the incident at the Westgate Mall shopping centre, and we are urgently looking into it. We stand ready to provide consular assistance if there are any British nationals involved." The Foreign Office updated the travel advice on its website to say: "British nationals should avoid the area".
Hannah Chisholm, a Briton visiting Nairobi, said she and 60 others barricaded themselves into a large storeroom. She told the BBC: "We kept running to different places but the shots were getting louder so we barricaded ourselves along with about 60 others into a large storeroom. There were children hiding with us as well as someone who had been shot." She added: "The gunfire was loud and we were scared but at that point we thought the gunmen were thieves so we assumed they wouldn't try to reach the storeroom." Arjen Westra was drinking coffee at the time of the attack. He thought the cafe he was in was being targeted by the gunmen. He told the broadcaster: "I could hear the gunfire moving towards the main entrance of the shopping mall, so some people ran out of our cafe in a kind of panic, and quite a number just fell down as flat as possible on the ground." One Nairobi resident, Anupa, who lives near the scene, said: "I heard the exchange of fire when it happened, and I heard what I thought was a grenade, but I didn't go outside. The whole area is cordoned off." Sudjar Singh, who works at the shopping centre, told AFP: "The gunmen tried to fire at my head but missed. There are definitely many casualties." Another witness added: "I saw three of the attackers dressed in black and with covered faces and they were carrying heavy rifles."
Al Qaida-linked Somali militant group al-Shabab is claiming responsibility for the deadly attack. A statement from al-Shabab on its official Twitter feed said the attacks are retribution for military action by Kenya inside Somalia. The group said it is now shifting the battlefield to Kenya. The group said its fighters entered Nairobi's upmarket Westgate Mall at around noon and were still inside more than nine hours later. Kenyan military special forces had entered the mall in an effort to end the standoff. Nairobi's mortuary superintendent, Sammy Nyongesa Jacob, said at least 23 bodies were brought in. He said Africans, Asians and Caucasians were among the dead. Al-Shabab claimed its fighters had killed 100 people, but the group's claims are frequently exaggerated.