NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta says security forces have finally defeated a small group of terrorists after four days in fighting at a Nairobi mall.
In a televised address to the nation today, Kenyatta said “we have ashamed and defeated our attackers.”
He said the attack had left 240 casualties, including 61 dead civilians and six of his security forces. He said five terrorists were killed and another 11 suspects have been taken into custody.
The president said three floors of the Westgate mall collapsed and that there are “several bodies still trapped in the rubble including the terrorists.”
He declared three days of national mourning.
The announcement came hours after the Islamic militants who staged the deadly attack had said that hostages were alive and that their fighters were “still holding their ground.”
Explosions rang from the mall in the morning and at midday, and gunfire could also be heard, despite the Kenyan government assurances of success. Fresh smoke was seen rising from the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
Nairobi’s city morgue, meantime, had braced for the arrival of a large number of bodies of people killed, an official said.
Earlier, the Kenyan Red Cross confirmed at least 62 people had been killed, but spokesman Abbas Gullet said it was still not known how many more may be dead inside the building.
“It is certainly known that there are more casualties,” he said.
A government official told The Associated Press that the morgue was preparing for up to an additional 60 bodies, though the official didn’t know an exact count. The government official insisted on anonymity so he would not face retribution from government officials.
On the fourth day of fighting at the Westgate mall, three Kenyan soldiers died and eight others were receiving treatment, the Kenyan Interior Ministry said today.
A soldier emerging from the mall told the AP “we are finished,” but then conceded that government forces were still trying to secure the entire interior.
He said troops were checking for explosives, and to see if they could find any survivors in certain areas including the mall’s movie theater and casino. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he said he was under orders not to speak to media.
The al-Qaida-linked attackers gave a conflicting account of the mall conflict, using social media.
“There are countless number of dead bodies still scattered inside the mall, and the mujahideen are still holding their ground,” said the Somali rebel group al-Shabab in a Twitter message considered to be genuine.
It added that the hostages are “still alive looking quite disconcerted but, nevertheless, alive.”
But Kenyan police urged people to ignore “enemy… propaganda” and assured that the defense forces were continuing to “neutralize” the terrorist threat.
“Troops now in mop up operations in the building, “ the police said on Twitter.
A U.S. Embassy vehicle, identifiable by its numbered diplomatic license plate, arrived at the morgue today. American officials have not confirmed the deaths of any U.S. citizens in the mall attack, but it appeared possible the Americans who visited the morgue — likely security officials with an agency like the FBI — could have been seeking information.
Al-Shabab, whose name means “The Youth” in Arabic, said the mall attack was in retribution for Kenyan forces’ 2011 push into neighboring Somalia.