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September 24, 2013

Officials claim last push to end siege

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyan security forces battled al-Qaida-linked terrorists in an upscale mall for a third day Monday in what they said was a final push to rescue the last few hostages in a siege that has left at least 62 people dead.

While the government announced Sunday that “most” hostages had been released, a security expert with contacts inside the mall said at least 10 were still being held by a band of attackers described as “a multinational collection from all over the world.”

Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said “two or three Americans” and “one Brit” were among those who attacked the mall.

She said in an interview with the PBS “NewsHour” program that the Americans were 18 to 19 years old, of Somali or Arab origin and lived “in Minnesota and one other place” in the U.S. The attacker from Britain was a woman who has “done this many times before,” Mohamed said.

U.S. officials said they were looking into whether any Americans were involved. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that the department had “no definitive evidence of the nationalities or the identities” of the attackers.

The security expert, who insisted on anonymity to talk freely about the situation, said many hostages had been freed or escaped in the previous 24-36 hours, including some who were in hiding.

However, there were at least 30 hostages when the assault by al-Shabab militants began Saturday, he said, and “it’s clear” that Kenyan security officials “haven’t cleared the building fully.”

Flames and dark plumes of smoke rose Monday above the Westgate shopping complex for more than an hour after four large explosions rocked the surrounding neighborhood. The smoke was pouring through a large skylight inside the mall’s main department and grocery store, where mattresses and other flammable goods appeared to have been set on fire, a person with knowledge of the rescue operation told The Associated Press.

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