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Britons caught up in mall attack
British nationals have undoubtedly been caught up in the "callous and cowardly and brutal" Nairobi terror attack which left at least 39 people dead, the Foreign Secretary said.
William Hague said "we should be ready for that and aware of that" as he revealed a rapid deployment team is being sent to Kenya to help in the aftermath of the atrocity at an upmarket shopping centre in the capital.
Kenya president Uhuru Kenyatta said that 39 people had died in the attack and 150 were injured. In a televised address, he said security forces were in the process of "neutralising the attackers and securing the mall" but he said it was a "delicate" operation. He said the terrorists responsible would be hunted down, vowing: "We shall punish them." He also urged Kenyans to "remain calm and vigilant" and asked them to donate blood to help treat the injured.
Somali-based militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the atrocity in which men armed with guns and grenades stormed the mall and targeted non-Muslims. Dozens were reportedly being held hostage by the gang in the Westgate Mall, in the affluent Westlands district of the city, which is popular with expats.
Hannah Chisholm, a Briton visiting Nairobi, said she and 60 others barricaded themselves into a large storeroom. 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."
Al-Shabaab, also known as Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM), appeared to claim responsibility for the atrocity by writing on its official Twitter feed that "the Mujahideen entered Westgate Mall today at around noon". It said it had previously warned the Kenyan government that if they did not remove military forces from Somalia there would be "severe consequences". "For long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land, now it's time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land," it tweeted. "The Mujahideen entered Westgate Mall today at around noon and are still inside the mall, fighting the Kenyan Kuffar inside their own turf." The organisation claimed it had killed more than 100 Kenyan "kuffar", a derogatory term used to describe non-Muslims.
Nairobi's mortuary superintendent, Sammy Nyongesa Jacob, said Africans, Asians and Caucasians were among the 23 bodies brought in following the attack.
Speaking from Chevening Mr Hague said: "There are undoubtedly British nationals caught up in this and so we should be ready for that and aware of that. Again, we don't have any sufficiently precise details to give any further details of that at the moment. This is a fast-moving situation and it is still going on at the time that we are speaking." He said there had been a claim of responsibility from al-Shabaab but "that doesn't mean we know for certain who has done or is doing this. I think what we do know for certain and what we can say in the United Kingdom for certain is that all of our work and the work of Kenya and other countries neighbouring Somalia to bring stability to Somalia, to defeat terrorism there, will continue. It will never be deterred or prevented by actions of this kind. I know that will be the view of the Kenyan government and the people of Kenya as well."
He said al-Shabaab had brought "terror and great difficulty to Somalia" and the UK had done a lot of work to tackle the problems in Somalia. "It is too early to know for sure who carried out this attack. It is an attack that, as we speak, as far as we know is still continuing so we can't give any further details." He added: "These are large numbers of entirely innocent people, that's why I say it is a particularly callous and cowardly and brutal attack. Sadly significant numbers have been killed. So again I say that the thoughts of the UK are with the people of Kenya at this terrible moment."
The Foreign Secretary 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. We are sending a rapid deployment team to reinforce that work, which will be particularly important if the situation carries on. We have offered the Kenyan authorities any other assistance and of course we will keep in touch with them about that." A Downing Street spokesman said David Cameron had spoken to Mr Kenyatta and passed on his "sincere condolences".