Nairobi mall attack death toll rises to 20

Kenya's government said the attack by gunmen on an upmarket Nairobi mall could be by terrorists.

 Injured people receive assistance from bypassers after masked gunmen stormed an upmarket Nairobi mall and sprayed gunfire on shoppers and staff on September 21, 2013 in Nairobi. Picture: AFP

NAIROBI - At least 20 people have reportedly been killed during an attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi in what Kenya's government has said could be a terrorist attack.

Sporadic gun shots could be heard hours after the assault started as soldiers surrounded the mall and police and soldiers combed the building, hunting down the attackers shop by shop.

Some local television stations reported hostages had been taken but there has been no official confirmation of this.

The Somali militant group al-Shabaab had threatened before to strike the Westgate Shopping Mall which is popular with the city's expatriate community.

Police helicopters circled above the mall as armed police shouted "get out! get out!" and scores of shoppers fled the building. Smoke poured out of one entrance of the high and witnesses said they heard grenade blasts.

Others said they saw around five armed assailants storm the mall and said the incident appeared to be an attack rather than an armed robbery.

"They don't seem like thugs, this is not a robbery incident," said Yukeh Mannasseh who was on the mall's top floor when the shooting started. "It seems like an attack. The guards who saw them said they were shooting indiscriminately."

One eyewitness who identified himself as Taha said he heard the screech of brakes followed moments later by an explosion and then sustained gun fire from the ground floor.

Another survivor said he was shot by a man who looked Somali.

Some shoppers ran upstairs and escalators and hid around the mall's cinema complex. Police found another terrified group hiding in a toilet on the first floor.

At least two dozen wounded were wheeled out on stretchers and shopping trolleys. Many of the victims had multiple light wounds, apparently from flying debris. Other walked out, some with bloodied clothing wrapped around wounds.

It was reported at least 20 bodies were seen in two different locations.

The Kenyan Red Cross earlier said at least 15 had been killed and more casualties were still inside the complex.

"The casualties are many, and that's only what we have on the outside. Inside there are even more casualties and shooting is still going," said Kenya Red Cross Society Secretary General Abbas Guled.

THREATS BY AL-SHABAAB

Al-Shabaab have previously threatened to launch strikes on Nairobi's tower blocks and soft targets including nightclubs and hotels known to be popular with Westerners in the capital.

But they have so far failed to carry out such an attack.

"I personally touched the eyes of four people and they were dead. One of them was a child," said one former British soldier at the scene.

"It's carnage up there."

Asked if the attack was a robbery, one paramilitary officer said: "No, terrorist".

But there has been no official statement from the police regarding the attackers' motive.

Police cordoned off the roads surrounding the mall in central Nairobi's Westlands neighbourhood.

Satpal Singh, who was in another cafe on the mall's top floor said he ran downstairs when he heard the gunfire and was shot at near the mall's main exit.

"A Somali guy shot at me. The guy who shot me was carrying a rifle, an AK-47."