Britons 'undoubtedly' caught in Kenya attack, says Hague

Foreign Secretary William Hague: "There are undoubtedly British nationals caught up in this"

Foreign Secretary William Hague has said there are "undoubtedly" British nationals caught up in the attack on a shopping centre in Kenya.

Mr Hague said the attack at the mall in the capital Nairobi, which has left at least 59 dead and 175 injured, was "callous and cowardly and brutal".

Earlier, the prime minister spoke to Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and offered condolences and assistance.

A rapid deployment team is being sent to Nairobi by the Foreign Office.

Start Quote

There were children hiding with us as well as someone who had been shot”

End Quote Hannah Chisholm Briton visiting Nairobi

The government's emergency response committee, Cobra, has met to discuss the attacks.

And the head of the UK's diplomatic service, Sir Simon Fraser, said the Foreign Office's crisis team in London would be working through Saturday night and would be on standby to give consular assistance to British citizens.

The Foreign Office said around 30,000 British nationals are thought to be living and working in Nairobi.

Britons barricaded

The Somali-based militant group al-Shabab has said it carried out the attack in response to Kenyan military operations in Somalia.

The attack began at about midday on Saturday, when the attackers entered the Westgate centre throwing grenades and firing automatic weapons. A children's day event was being held at the time - children are among those reported killed.

Some witnesses said the militants told Muslims to leave and said non-Muslims would be targeted.

Hannah Chisholm, a Briton visiting Nairobi, said she and 60 others barricaded themselves into a large storeroom.

Soldiers from the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) arrive at at the Westgate Shopping Centre in the capital Nairobi September 22, 2013 There is a heavy military presence in the Kenyan capital as the stand-off continues

She told the BBC: "We kept running to different places but the shots were getting louder so we barricaded ourselves along with about 60 others into a large storeroom.

"There were children hiding with us as well as someone who had been shot."

She added: "The gunfire was loud and we were scared but at that point we thought the gunmen were thieves so we assumed they wouldn't try to reach the storeroom."

Amita Sharma, who lives in Slough, told BBC Radio Berkshire that a family friend's daughter-in-law who was four months pregnant was shot and killed.

Ms Sharma - whose mother is Kenyan - was at Westgate shopping centre two weeks ago and she said security was tight.

"If you drive in in your car they actually check in the boot of the car, they check under the car," she said.

"If you go in by foot then they have security guards at the gates where they check in your bags and they might frisk you. A lot of them are armed, they don't let you take photographs."

Early on Sunday, the Kenya National Disaster Operation Centre tweeted: "KDF [Kenya Defence Forces] & Special Forces have control of #Westgate 1st and 2nd floors. Parts of the ground floor and basement remain unsecured."

It confirmed hostages were still being held in these unsecured areas.

'Bring stability'

A Downing Street spokesman said: "President Kenyatta updated the prime minister on the current situation and explained that Kenyan security forces were bringing the situation under control."

He added that the prime minister had passed on his condolences and said the UK government "were ready to provide any assistance we could".

Mr Hague said "the thoughts of the UK are with the people of Kenya at this terrible moment".

In response to al-Shabaab's statements, he said work to "bring stability to Somalia, to defeat terrorism there, will continue".

He added: "Our High Commission staff in Nairobi are working very hard, visiting hospitals, trying to make sure that they are aware of British nationals who might have been in the area or caught up in this."

The minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, also condemned the attack and offered his "deep sympathy to those affected".

Mr Simmonds said he had spoken to Kenya's foreign minister.

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