Explosions heard at Nairobi mall

Kenyan security forces are battling to end a 43-hour standoff at Westgate Shopping Mall.

Mall officials and policemen scatter as gunfire rings out on 21 September 2013 at an upmarket shopping mall in Nairobi where al Shabaab terrorists opened fire on civilians. Picture: AFP

NAIROBI - Three loud explosions have been heard at Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall this morning where Kenyan security forces are still battling to end a 43-hour standoff with Somali al-Shabaab terrorists.

The explosions followed a sustained outbreak of gunfire that lasted around 15 minutes.

Sixty eight people have been killed since Saturday when al-Shabaab militants stormed the upmarket shopping centre.

Among those killed is South African businessman James Thomas.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said those responsible will be punished.

"They shall not get away with their despicable and beastly acts. Like the cowardly perpetrators now cornered in the building. We will punish the masterminds swiftly and indeed very painfully. I call on Kenyans to stand courageous and united."

Kenyatta lost a nephew and his fiancé in the attacks.

South African High Commissioner to Kenya Ratubatsi Moloi says at this stage, it can't confirm whether any other South Africans have been affected by the attack.

"There are still people trapped in the mall. We can't tell whether there are any South Africans still inside and are sending our people to the mortuaries and hospitals to try and identify if there are any South Africans there."

For a full timeline of events, click here.

SIEGE

Referring to an operation underway since early on Sunday, a military spokesman said most of those who had been in the complex were brought to safety.

He made no mention of killing or capturing militants, but said commanders hoped to end the operation "very, very soon".

"Most of the hostages have been released and the Kenya Defence Forces have taken control of most parts of the building," said Colonel Cyrus Oguna.

Oguna said the government will not negotiate with terrorists.

Earlier, as people continued to emerge from hiding while troops and police moved to secure the sprawling complex, officials said concern now focused on a large supermarket where Kenyatta said 10 to 15 guerrillas, some possibly women, were holding an unspecified number of people.

With the stocks of the Nakumatt supermarket at their disposal, the gunmen could be in a position to hold on for a long time.

Kenyatta declined to comment on whether captives had been wired up to explosives.

He vowed to hold firm in what he called the "war on terror" in Somalia and said cautiously that Kenyan forces could end the siege.

"I assure Kenyans that we have as good a chance to successfully neutralise the terrorists as we can hope for."

But a military spokesman for al-Shabaab said his group had nothing to fear.

"Where will Uhuru Kenyatta get the power with which he threatened us?" said Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab.

The assault is the biggest single attack in Kenya since al Qaeda's East Africa cell bombed the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing more than 200 people.

Kenya sent troops into Somalia in October 2011 to pursue militants whom it accused of kidnapping tourists and attacking its security forces.

Al Shabaab's last big attack outside Somalia was a twin assault in Uganda which killed 77 people who were gathered to watch the 2010 World Cup final.

SA MAN'S BODY TO RETURN HOME

The family of a South African man who was killed during the attack says they're waiting for his body to be returned to Cape Town.

Fifty seven-year-old Thomas was in Kenya on business.

On Saturday, family and friends were desperately trying to get hold of him when the news of the attack broke.

David Meldrum, a close friend, said they only learnt of his death on Sunday afternoon.

"I was with his wife Colleen at the time and she took a phone call from James's colleague in Nairobi who had just identified him at a morgue."

Meldrum says all they know is that he died from a gunshot wound.

The family will wait for his body to be returned to South Africa, hopefully sometime this week.

Another South African, 34-year-old Charlene Waigango was hiding in a stairwell with about 60 others for almost two hours before managing to escape.

"We heard gunshots and explosions. It was really terrible."

She managed to escape unharmed.

GLOBAL CONDEMNATION

President Jacob Zuma has expressed his shock and dismay about Saturday's attack and has sent his deepest condolences to the family of the South African man who was killed.

British Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed that at least three Brits were already among the dead.

"We should prepare ourselves for further bad news."

US President Barack Obama called Kenyatta to offer condolences and support.

Officials in Israel, whose citizens own several stores in the mall and have been targeted by Islamists in Kenya before, said Israeli experts were also advising Kenyan forces.

Foreigners including two French women and diplomats from Canada and Ghana were killed.

The Ghanaian, Kofi Awoonor, was also a renowned poet.

Other foreign victims were from China and Netherlands.

Five Americans were wounded.