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An upscale mall in Nairobi turned into a battleground today when armed gunmen stormed into the mall in the busy lunchtime hour. The Kenyan president says more than 30 people have been killed, many more injured, including some of his own relatives.
According to the State Department, there are reports that some of the injured are American citizens. The battle is still ongoing as police search the mall floor by floor. Officials say the police have the gunmen pinned down and that they're holding hostages. It is still unclear how many are being held and how many civilians may still be trapped inside the mall.
NPR's Gregory Warner reports from Nairobi.
GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: At least five gunmen entered the mall through two entrances and immediately started shooting. It was 12:50 p.m. on Saturday when Westgate Mall was packed with foreigners and Kenyans. Olivia Murphy said she had just gone to have lunch with a friend at the popular Art Caffe when she heard the gunfire of automatic weapons and grenade explosions.
OLIVIA MURPHY: I just sat down when everything started, so we just ran and hid into Mr. Price.
WARNER: Mr. Price is a home goods store.
MURPHY: My friend was very clever because I was running to go out, but she pulled me into Mr. Price.
WARNER: Eventually, they were rescued by Nairobi police. Other mall-goers weren't so lucky. Outside the street was crowded with people waiting for news from their loved ones. Matthew Den Dulk was trying to telephone his wife, Grace, an employee at one of the banks inside.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
WARNER: Just then gunshots rang out and Den Dulk took shelter behind a kiosk.
How do you feel?
MATTHEW DEN DULK: Helpless. Helpless, yeah.
WARNER: Eventually, he did reach his wife. She was inside the bank, waiting to be rescued. Manoah Esipisu is a spokesperson for the Kenyan State House.
MANOAH ESIPISU: We have people who know what to do, how to do. In here, they are dealing with that situation. We want people to remain as calm as possible, not to be alarmed whatsoever, and to allow the security agents and other rescue people to do their job.
WARNER: Police said that they were treating this as a terror attack. There's been no official claims of responsibility, but Somali militant group al-Shabab is using social media to praise the attack. An al-Shabab spokesman tweeted that this attack is retribution for the Somali civilians killed by the Kenyan army fighting in the war on terror in Somalia. He's tweeted that they're in contact with the mujahedeen inside the mall and that there would be, quote, "no negotiations whatsoever" with Kenyan officials. This is the deadliest single terror attack in the city since the U.S. embassy bombing of 1998.
Outside the mall as dusk fell, I met Latif Sadik, a Nairobi mechanic. He said he hid out the attack in a shoe shop until he was rescued. He was unable to reach his female companion who was on the top floor. She'd stayed to watch a children's cooking competition being held today.
LATIF SADIK: Thirty, 40 kids were there.
WARNER: Thirty, 40 kids.
SADIK: With their parents and guardians, and everyone were there.
WARNER: So are you able to reach them on the phone?
SADIK: She's not picking the phone. I've even written a message. I wrote the message that I'm OK. How are you? But even I lost my specs.
WARNER: He'd lost his eyeglasses in the rush. He needed to ask me to confirm if she'd responded to his text. She had not.
SADIK: She's not responded yet.
WARNER: When I left him by the now darkened roadside, he was still waiting. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.