The Kenyan military remained in a tense standoff with Islamic extremists in a Nairobi mall on Sunday (local time), where at least 59 people have been killed, and more than 175 injured, including a Kiwi.
Multiple barrages of gunfire erupted on Sunday morning from inside the Westgate mall where hostages are being held by militants. The radicals attacked the mall on Saturday and remained inside throughout the night.
In a statement citing police, Kenya's Red Cross said 49 people had been reported missing. Officials did not make an explicit link but that number could form the basis of the number of people held hostage.
"The priority is to save as many lives as possible," Joseph Lenku said, reassuring the families of the hostages in the upscale mall.
Kenyan forces had already rescued about 1000 people, he said.
Ten to 15 attackers remain in the mall and Kenyan forces control the security cameras inside the shopping centre, Lenku said.
Combined military and police forces surrounded the mall in the Westlands neighborhood of Nairobi, which is frequented by foreigners and wealthy Kenyans.
An Associated Press photographer saw Kenyan soldiers carry into the mall a rocket-propelled grenade, an extremely heavy weapon for an indoor hostage situation.
Former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told reporters at the mall that he had been told officials could not determine the exact number of hostages inside the mall.
"There are quite a number of people still being held hostage on the third floor and the basement area where the terrorists are still in charge," Odinga said.
Somalia's al-Qaida-linked rebel group, al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the attack in which they used grenades and assault rifles and specifically targeted non-Muslims. The rebels said the attack was retribution for Kenyan forces' 2011 push into Somalia and threatened more attacks.
Kenyans and foreigners were among those confirmed dead, including British, French, Canadians, Chinese and a dual Australian-British national.
One Kiwi was injured, but New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he was in a stable condition in a hospital.
Nineteen people, including at least four children, died after being admitted to Nairobi's MP Shah hospital, said Manoj Shah, the hospital's chairman.
"We have at least two critical patients currently, one with bullets lodged near the spine," he said.
The hospital continued to receive patients Sunday, he said.
Britain's Foreign Office said at least three United Kingdom nationals were killed in the attack and warned that the number of UK nationals confirmed as killed was "likely to rise as further information becomes available".
A 38-year-old Chinese woman was killed in the shopping mall "terror attack," the Chinese Embassy in Kenya said in a statement on Sunday. Her son was injured in the attack and in a stable condition in hospital, according to the statement posted on the embassy's website.
Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor died after being injured in the attack, Ghana's presidential office confirmed.
Kenya's presidential office said one of the attackers was arrested on Saturday and died after suffering from bullet wounds.
Trucks brought in a fresh contingent of soldiers from the Kenya Defense Forces early on Sunday.
"Violent extremists continue to occupy Westgate Mall. Security services are there in full force," said the United States embassy in an emergency text message issued Sunday morning.
Britain's Foreign Office said Foreign Secretary William Hague had chaired a meeting of Britain's crisis committee and sent a rapid deployment team from London to Nairobi to provide extra consular support.
The United Nations Security Council condemned the attacks and "expressed their solidarity with the people and Government of Kenya" in a statement.
There was some good news on Sunday, as Kenyan media reported that several people in hiding in the mall escaped to safety, suggesting that not everyone who was still inside was being held by al-Shabab.
Cecile Ndwiga said she had been hiding under a car in the basement parking garage.
"I called my husband to ask the soldiers to come and rescue me. Because I couldn't just walk out anyhow. The shootout was all over here - left, right - just gun shots," she said.
Nairobi resident Paolo Abenavoli said he was holed up in his apartment only 100 meters from the mall with a direct view of the entrance. He said he could see a dozen or more security forces inside a first floor restaurant.
"The battle is on now," Abenavoli said by telephone as the fresh gunfire broke out on Sunday.
Security forces had pushed curious crowds far back from the mall. Hundreds of residents gathered on a high ridge above the mall to watch for any activity.
30 SECONDS OF HELL
A volley of gunfire lasting about 30 seconds interrupted a stalemate of several hours, a Reuters witness said, speaking from close to the shopping centre that has several Israeli-owned outlets and is frequented by expatriates and Kenyans.
Shortly after the shots were fired, troops in camouflage ran crouching below a restaurant terrace along the front of the building that had been buzzing with customers when assailants charged in. One witness said they first told Muslims to leave.
For hours after the brazen attack, the dead were strewn around tables of unfinished meals. At one burger restaurant, a man and woman lay in a final embrace after they had been killed, before their bodies were removed. Pop music was left playing.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, facing his first major security challenge since a March election, said some of his close family members were among the dead, and vowed to defeat the militants.
"We have overcome terrorist attacks before," he said.
The assault was the biggest single attack in Kenya since al Qaeda's East Africa cell bombed the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing more than 200 people. In 2002, the same militant cell attacked an Israeli-owned hotel on the coast and tried to shoot down an Israeli jet in a coordinated strike.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku told reporters the death toll had risen to 59, and that security forces were doing everything they could to rescue hostages still inside the mall.
COMBING THE MALL
Lenku added that 175 people had been taken to hospital after an assault that could prove a costly setback for east Africa's biggest economy, which relies heavily on tourism revenues. More than 1000 people were evacuated in the standoff.
The dead included children, and the wounded ranged in age from 2 to 78. Many victims were at a cooking competition when assailants opened fire on them, witnesses said.
The focus of attention on Sunday was on Nakumatt supermarket, one of Kenya's biggest chains.
Soldiers joined the security operation backed by armoured personnel carriers in the hours after the attack that was launched around 12.30 p.m. (0930 GMT) on Saturday. Security forces have been combing through the mall, clearing the floors.
As helicopters hovered over the capital, a paramilitary officer at the scene, a rifle slung over his shoulder, said: "They will be arranging how to attack (the assailants)."
One woman emerged on Sunday morning after hiding under a car in the basement. She held one shoe and looked dazed, while making a frantic phone call to her husband who later met her.
France said two of its citizens were killed, and Canada said two Canadians died, including a 29-year-old diplomat. Ghanaian diplomat and poet, Kofi Awoonor, was also killed, as was a Chinese woman, according to China's official news agency.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who offered assistance to Kenya in the incident, said several U.S. citizens had been hurt and the wife of a US diplomat working for the U.S. Agency for International Development was killed.
Al Shabaab, which is battling Kenyan and other African peacekeepers in Somalia, had repeatedly threatened attacks in Kenya if Nairobi did not pull its troops out of their country.
The group appeared to taunt the security forces, saying on its official Twitter handle HSM-Press that there would be no negotiations whatsoever with Kenyan officials over the standoff.
"10 hours have passed and the Mujahideen are still strong inside Mall and still holding their ground. All praise is due to Allah!", the group said late on Saturday, although its account on Twitter was suspended on Sunday morning.
Relatives of hostages still trapped in the mall kept vigil overnight at a nearby religious community centre, and people queued up to donate blood across the country, responding to media appeals.
Kevin Jamal, who had joined Kenya Red Cross Society volunteers, was awaiting news of his sister who he said was held inside. He said security forces could have done better.
"They should not allow themselves to be outmanoeuvred by less than 20 people," he said.
A private security firm would normally search patrons of the mall using metal detectors and open the trunks of cars entering parking areas, but the guards would be unarmed.
Nakumatt closed its other stores on Sunday, local media reported, while the mall was cordoned off and surrounded by police and paramilitary forces.
Ole Lenku said the government believed that there were 10-15 attackers who security forces had been able to "isolate", but no communication had yet been established with them.
Those rescued said at least one of the assailants was a woman. One militant was shot and arrested in clashes following the initial siege, but died shortly afterwards at a hospital.
Witnesses said the attackers were armed with AK-47 rifles and wore ammunition belts. Police said they stormed in during a children's cooking competition hosted by a radio station at the mall, just as the winners were about to receive prizes.
Kenya sent troops into Somalia in October 2011 to pursue militants it blamed for kidnapping tourists and attacking its security forces.
Al Shabaab's last big attack outside Somalia was a twin assault in nearby Uganda, targeting people watching the World Cup final on television in Kampala in 2010, killing 77 people.
- AP and Reuters