Nairobi Westgate shoot-out kills 11 in Kenya

Footage from inside the mall shows the aftermath of the shoot-out

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Eleven people have died in a gun battle inside a Nairobi shopping centre, says a senior Kenyan security official.

Mutea Iringo blamed "armed criminals" and said police were in control of a "very serious situation". Officers are going shop to shop to secure the area. The Kenyan Red Cross says 30 died.

Eyewitnesses saw armed men in black entering the Westgate shopping centre on Saturday afternoon.

The Somali militant group al-Shabab has said it carried out the attack.

On its Twitter feed, the al-Qaeda-linked group said it confirmed it was behind what it called the "Westgate spectacle".

Al-Shabab has carried out a string of attacks in Kenya since 2011, when Kenyan troops moved into southern Somalia to fight the militants there.

Some eyewitnesses told AFP news agency they had heard the gunmen speaking Arabic or Somali.

Map

Other witnesses said Muslims were told to leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted.

"They came and said: 'If you are Muslim, stand up. We've come to rescue you," said Elijah Lamau.

He said the Muslims left with their hands up, and then the gunmen shot two people.

The US state department says it has reports that American citizens were injured in what it called "a senseless act of violence".

Trapped

At the scene

This is one of the worst incidents since Kenya first experienced a terrorist attack on the US embassy in Nairobi in August 1998. The timing is telling, coming just at the time when most families are out for lunch or shopping.

The mall is located in a wealthy area of Nairobi and is home to supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, banks as well as leading fashion stores from around the world.

Attacks on Nairobi shopping centres have been on the radar of terrorist groups for the past four years, with alerts always circulated among the expatriate and diplomatic community. Kenya's incursion into Somalia to fight al-Shabab militants intensified security.

The military has been called in to help police secure the building. The permanent secretary for internal security, Mutea Iringo, has not ruled out the attack being carried out by a terror group.

The attackers entered the Westgate centre at about 12:00 local time (09:00 GMT), throwing grenades and firing automatic weapons.

Dozens of shoppers fled; many were trapped inside. Some reports spoke of hostages but this is unconfirmed.

Arjen Westra, who was drinking coffee at the time of the attack, told the BBC he thought the cafe he was in was being targeted by the gunmen.

"I could hear the gunfire moving towards the main entrance of the shopping mall, so some people ran out of our cafe in a kind of panic, and quite a number just fell down as flat as possible on the ground."

Mr Iringo, permanent secretary in the Internal Security Ministry, said special forces were now "evacuating civilians and searching for the criminals".

Nairobi police chief Benson Kibue initially said the gunmen had been trying to rob a shop, but later called it "a terrorist attack".

The BBC's Anne Soy is ordered to lie down, as military vehicles move in

Targeted

The BBC's Anne Soy, who is at the scene, said there were reports one of the gunmen has been shot dead.

Some of the attackers were reportedly dressed in hijabs, and it is unclear whether they were men or women, our correspondent says.

An injured man is treated outside an upmarket shopping mall, seen background, in Nairobi, Kenya, 21 September 2013. Emergency medical staff treated some of the wounded near the building's entrance
A soldier moves to take up a position outside an upscale shopping mall, seen background, in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday 21 September 2013. Security forces have surrounded the shopping centre
Shoppers are helped to evacuate the area of an upmarket shopping mall, seen background, in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday 21 September 2013. Dozens of shoppers were given assistance in evacuating the area
Armed Kenyan police officer outside the Westgate Mall, Nairobi (21 September) As darkness fell, security forces were still surrounding the building, with gunmen believed to be holed up inside

Security guards used shopping trolleys to wheel out several wounded children and at least one man.

"The gunmen tried to fire at my head but missed. There are definitely many casualties," Sudjar Singh, who works at the shopping centre, told AFP.

"I saw three of the attackers dressed in black and with covered faces and they were carrying heavy rifles," said another witness.

One Nairobi resident, Anupa, who lives near the scene, told the BBC: "I heard the exchange of fire when it happened, and I heard what I thought was a grenade, but I didn't go outside. The whole area is cordoned off."

The Westgate centre is often frequented by wealthy Kenyans and expatriates. Police have urged residents to stay away from the area.

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