Nairobi shopping mall still a battleground as Shabab militants hold on

 

McClatchy Foreign Staff

Kenya's shopping mall nightmare apparently is not over, despite Kenyan government claims that its forces were in control, with the sounds of gunfire still emanating Tuesday from the Westgate shopping mall where terrorists believed to be members of al Qaida's affiliate in Somalia killed dozens of shoppers on Saturday.

The Kenyan military said it was still conducting "mop up operations" but Shabab terror group claiming it still held hostages inside.

With journalists kept too far from the center to see what was unfolding, Twitter became the source for information from both sides. But the government's tweets offered confusing and conflicting accounts of what exactly was happening inside the mall.

On Monday evening, the government had tweeted that the mall was under "full control," and Kenyans assumed the ugly ordeal was finally over; one Kenyan television station announced the operation to retake the mall had ended, citing an unnamed military source.

The Kenyan Inspector-General of Police, David Kimaiyo, took to Twitter to taunt the gunmen assailants. "Man-to-man fight is when the winner has one more round in his magazine. We don't quit a battle worth winning. We've ashamed (sic) the attackers," he said.

Those claims appeared premature by Tuesday morning, when more gunfire erupted from within the shopping mall. A raging fire inside the mall appeared to have been put out, although smoke continued to rise from the roof.

Three Kenyan soldiers have died, and an additional eight others wounded, said the military.

An official news conference promised Monday evening by a Twitter account belonging to the National Disaster Operations Center still had not materialized by late afternoon on Tuesday.

"We believe all hostages have been released," tweeted the National Disaster Operations Center Monday.

But by Tuesday, the Kenyan government appeared to suggest more hostages remained inside.

"The delicate (and) complex nature of the Westgate rescue operation called for extreme care (and) caution to ensure the safety (and) security of the hostages," tweeted the Kenya Defense Forces on Tuesday.

A new Shabab Twitter account mocked the Kenyan statements for "incoherent ramblings of Kenyan officials and the blatant discrepancies" on Tuesday.

The new account, @HSM_PR, is the sixth account opened by the terror group, after the first five were suspended, said SITES, which monitors online jihadi activity.

"The hostages who were being held by the Mujahideen inside #Westgate are still alive, looking quite disconcerted but, nevertheless, alive," the new account said.

The terror group also suggested the death toll had not finished rising.

"There are countless number of dead bodies still scattered inside the mall, and the Mujahideen are still holding their ground," the terror group said.

The Israeli-owned Westgate shopping center, which contained three floors of upscale cafes, retail stores, and a fourth-floor cinema, was frequented by Nairobi's large international crowd of diplomats and aid workers, as well as well-off Kenyans.

The Kenyan government says 62 have been confirmed dead and 175 injured.

Boswell is a McClatchy special correspondent. Email: aboswell@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @alanboswell

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