SA woman still missing in Kenya

It's unclear if the woman has been killed or is still being held hostage by militants.

Smoke rises from the beseiged Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi following a loud explosion. Kenyan security forces were locked in a fierce, final battle with Somali Islamist gunmen. Picture: AFP

NAIROBI - The South African high commission in Kenya says a South African woman who was in Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall when it was attacked by terrorists linked to Somalia's al-Shabaab group on Saturday is still missing.

It's unclear if the woman, whose identity is being withheld, is amongst those who were killed or is still being held hostage by militants in the mall.

A group of between 10 and 15 militants stormed the upscale mall at lunchtime on Saturday and began shooting civilians indiscriminately killing at least 62 and wounding at least 175 people.

The South African High Commissioner to Kenya Ratubatsi Moloi says embassy staff are doing everything they can to find the missing woman.

"We have been given a name of a lady that has been missing since this incident took place."

Moloi says there are several unidentified corpses in morgues around the city and an operation is underway to determine if any of them are South African.

"There are unidentified bodies at various mortuaries and embassy staff are taking turns to check if there are any South Africans there."

The commissioner also sent condolences to the family of James Thomas, a Cape Town businessman who was among those killed in the attack. He slammed the terror attack and called it an "unforgivable act".

Meanwhile, at least three survivors have been released from the mall overnight and this morning.

There is still no word from authorities on how many people are still unaccounted for.

Eyewitness News spoke to independent journalists Daniel Howden who is in Nairobi.

"We've seen soldiers regularly going in and out of the mall and have seen what appears to be supplies being taken in to troops. You can still hear helicopters overhead. There's still tight security and a very heavy troop and police presence.In the background, we've just heard another grenade blast."

The attack on the mall is the worst such incident in Kenya since al-Qaeda killed more than 200 people when it bombed the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998.

Kenya has sent troops to Somalia as part of an African Union force trying to stabilise the country, which was long without a functioning government, and push back al Shabaab.

Al-Shabaab says it launched the attack in pursuit of demands that Kenya withdraw troops from Somalia.

CONFLICTING REPORTS

Meanwhile, there have been conflicting reports coming from the mall where journalists are reporting that the building has now been cleared, but there's been no official word from authorities.

A short while ago it was reported Kenyan special forces were still battling "one or two" militants who were still inside the building.

A burst of gunfire early this morning broke hours of calm as the siege entered its fourth day.

The Al-Shabaab group said on Tuesday there were "countless dead bodies" in the mall as security forces searched for militants still holed up in the complex.

"There are countless dead bodies still scattered inside the mall, and the Mujahideen (fighters) are still holding their ground #Westgate," the group said on its Twitter feed.

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

It described its fighters as "unruffled and strolling around the mall in such sangfroid manner".

Meanwhile, the Kenyan military said its forces were carrying out "mop up operations" in the building.

Conflicting comments have fuelled speculation about the attackers' identity.

The foreign minister said there was a woman attacker killed, Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku had said on Monday they were all men, but some had dressed as women.

FOREIGN ATTACKERS

The al-Qaeda-linked attackers are believed by Western sources to include Americans and possibly a British woman who may be the widow of a suicide bomber who took part in an attack in London in 2005.

But al-Shabaab in Somalia rejected suggestions that foreigners were involved.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told the US PBS Newshour television show on Monday that "two or three Americans" and a British woman were among the militants.

She said the Americans were "young men, about between maybe 18 and 19" years old.

Mohamed said they were of Somali or Arab origin and had lived "in Minnesota and one other place."

Al-Shabaab, which said it been in communication with its members in the mall, dismissed the minister's comments.

"Those who describe the attackers as Americans and British are people who do not know what is going on in Westgate."

'WHITE WIDOW'

A British security source said it was possible that Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of Germaine Lindsay, one of the suicide bombers who killed more than 50 people on London's transport system in 2005, was involved in the Nairobi siege.

When asked about reports that Lewthwaite, dubbed the 'white widow', was directly involved in the attack in Kenya, the source said, "It is a possibility but nothing definitive or conclusive yet."

Lewthwaite is thought to have left Britain several years ago and is wanted in connection with an alleged plot to attack hotels and restaurants in Kenya.

This morning, the _Beeld _newspaper published a picture of Lewthwaite's face on a South African passport under the name Natalie Faye Webb.

Department spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa says the passport might be fake.

"You can't for certain say just from a picture in a newspaper that this is a valid South African passport."

He said the department will work with Kenyan authorities to determine the passport's validity.