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September 23, 2013

Kenya mall crisis: Fate of hostages not clear

NAIROBI, Kenya —

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A Kenyan military spokesman Monday said that the fate of hostages inside a mall besieged by al-Qaida-linked terrorists was not clear despite earlier statements that "most" hostages had been rescued.

Military helicopters circled over the mall at daybreak, when about five minutes of sustained gunfire broke out at the mall, a clear indication that at least one of the estimated 10 to 15 gunmen who attacked the mall when it was filled with shoppers Saturday was still on the loose.

A large military assault began on the mall shortly before sundown on Sunday, with one helicopter skimming very close to the roof of the shopping complex as a loud explosion rang out, far larger than any previous grenade blast or gunfire volley. Officials said the siege would soon end and said "most" hostages had been rescued and that officials controlled "most" of the mall.

But officials never said how many hostages had been rescued, and Kenya's military spokesman on Monday was still not able to provide clear details.

"We are yet to get confirmation from what's happening in the building," Col. Cyrus Oguna, a Kenyan military spokesman, told The Associated Press.

Late on Sunday, Kenya's National Disaster Operation Centre said on Twitter that "this will end tonight. Our forces will prevail."

Late on Sunday, Oguna said that many of the rescued hostages — whom he said were mostly adults — were suffering from dehydration. An Associated Press reporter at a triage center next to the mall said no hostages ever showed up there.

As the crisis neared the 48-hour mark, video taken by someone inside the mall's main department store when the assault began emerged. The video showed frightened and unsure shoppers crouching as long and loud volleys of gunfire could be heard.

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