World News : Gunfire erupted on Sunday at an upmarket shopping mall in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, where at least 59 people were killed and several more held hostage by gunmen from a Somali Islamist group that has declared allegiance to al Qaeda.
The shooting, lasting about 30 seconds, came after a period of tense quiet in the standoff, a Reuters witness said, speaking from close to the shopping centre that has several Israeli-owned outlets and which is frequented by Westerners and Kenyans.
Foreigners, including a Canadian diplomat, were killed in Saturday’s attack at Westgate mall, claimed by the Islamist group al Shabaab.
Shortly after the shots were fired, troops in camouflage ran crouching below a restaurant terrace along the front of the building that had been buzzing with customers when assailants charged in. One witness said they first told Muslims to leave.
For hours after the brazen attack, the dead were strewn around tables of unfinished meals. At one food outlet, a man and woman lay in a final embrace after they had been killed, before their bodies were later removed.
In the darkness of Sunday morning, music still played.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, facing his first major security challenge since his election in March, said his close family members were among the dead.
The assault was the biggest single attack in Kenya since al Qaeda’s East Africa cell bombed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing more than 200 people. In 2002, the same militant cell attacked an Israeli-owned hotel on the coast and tried to shoot down an Israeli jet in a coordinated attack.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku told reporters the death toll had risen to 59, and that security forces were doing everything they could to rescue hostages still inside the mall.
He added that 175 people had been taken to hospital after an assault that could prove a costly setback for east Africa’s biggest economy, which relies heavily on tourism revenues.
The dead included children, and the wounded ranged in age from 2 to 78. Many victims were at a cooking competition when assailants opened fire on them, witnesses said.