Kenyan security forces and al-Qaeda-linked Islamists were in a standoff Sunday morning after gunmen killed 59 people – including a Canadian diplomat and the Kenyan president's nephew – and injured at least 175 others in an attack at an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi. About 30 hostages were still being held.
"We will punish the masterminds (of the attack) swiftly, and indeed very painfully," Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta told reporters Sunday afternoon.
An Islamist group from Somalia, al Shabaab, claimed responsibility for the assault at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Reuters reported. The attackers were armed with AK-47 rifles and wore ammunition belts, according to witnesses.
The gunmen opened fire at shoppers while a radio station was hosting a children's cooking competition at the mall and the winners were about to receive prizes, the newswire said.
State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu said Sunday that authorities believe 10 to 15 gunmen were involved in the mall attack.
Among the dead are close family members of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the wife of a U.S. diplomat working for the U.S. Agency for International Development was killed, three British citizens, two French citizens and two Canadians, including a 29-year-old diplomat. Some children have also died.
Several American citizens have been wounded, but no American died, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. "The perpetrators of this heinous act must be brought to justice, and we have offered our full support to the Kenyan Government to do so," Kerry said in a statement.
Police tweeted, saying, "Attackers of Westgate shopping mall have been isolated and pinned down in a room by security forces in the ongoing operation."
President Kenyatta called the gunmen "despicable perpetrators," and the killing a "cowardly act" aimed at intimidating the nation.
Al Shabaab appears to be reacting to Kenyan troops' presence in Somalia to fight Islamist terrorist groups.
Al-Shabaab's real name is Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (Mujahideen Youth Movement), and it is an al-Qaeda-linked terror group that controls and runs a de facto "government" in most of southern Somalia. The terror group splintered from a now defunct group of Sharia courts, the Islamic Courts Union. It is seeking to overthrow the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, created in 2004 and supported by the African Union, the United Nations and the United States. Since the outbreak of the 1991 civil war, which overthrew President Siad Barre's regime, most parts of Somalia have had no formal government. The transitional government controls only a small part of the country.