A COLUMN of black smoke rose from the roof of Nairobi's Westgate mall after a series of massive blasts rocked the scene of a three-day hostage siege in the Kenyan capital.
While the battle to secure the shopping centre is ongoing, the Kenyan authorities said three terrorists have now been killed and CNN reported four had been arrested.
A security official at the scene said the military were now tackling just six or seven militants, and Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku has said his forces are “in control of all floors” of the five-storey mall.
The Kenyan Defence Forces reported that 11 of its soldiers had been injured in today's operation, and said 10 more bodies had been retrieved from the building in the past 24 hours.
In posts on Twitter, the authorities also said that 10 people have been arrested in relation to the Westgate incident, with some of those expected to be at airports and borders across the country which have stepped up security efforts to find anyone involved.
Shortly after midday local time today Kenyan soldiers in full combat gear flooded the streets around the upmarket shopping centre which has been occupied by the Islamist militants since Saturday lunchtime.
After four large blasts rocked the mall, Mr Lenku then said that two of the militants died from “our morning activities”.
Repeated attempts to rescue the remaining hostages are expected to go on into the night, despite officials saying there are “very few left” and that the battle was in its closing stages.
It was unclear at the time whether the explosions were the work of militants holed up inside the mall or whether they came from security services trying to blast their way in. One eye witness reported seeing Kenyan forces firing rocket propelled grenades into Westgate.
Large crowds of curious onlookers who have gathered at dawn each day to watch the drama unfold were driven back violently by Kenyan police who fired warning shots into the air and used volleys of tear gas. As gunshots rang out around the mall during the military operation, panicked crowds scattered and a handful of angry stone throwers confronted police just a few streets away.
Authorities called this morning's efforts a “final assault”, and following the most intense stage of the operation yet the Kenyan Police's official Twitter feed reported it had made gains, saying: “Thumbs up to our multi-agency team, we have just managed to rescue some hostages. We're increasingly gaining advantage of the attackers.”
- Daniel Howden and Adam Withnall, Independent.co.uk