NAIROBI, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- The death toll in an attack by gunmen on a popular shopping mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Saturday has risen to 20 and dozens of others were wounded, according to the Kenyan Red Cross.
There are still shoppers being held hostages in the third floor of the building while police have taken control of the first and second floors, witnesses reported.
Meanwhile, independent sources counted 40 to 59 bodies carried out of the shopping mall, which is yet to be confirmed by the authorities.
A group of gunmen entered the mall at around 10:30 a.m. local time in an attempt apparently to rob shoppers, who doubt their real purpose was to launch a terror attack.
Witnesses said they heard explosions and heavy gunfire and bodies lying on the ground.
The standoff continues hours after the shootout between police officers and a group of armed men at the Westgate shopping mall, which is frequented mostly by foreigners and rich people in the East African country.
Reports from various sources also said the gunmen kidnapped a number of shoppers.
Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo in an initial report said five people were wounded in the exchange of fire, calling for calm and pledging capability of dealing with the situation.
The police officer said he "will issue a comprehensive statement later."
Kimaiyo said the shopping mall has been cordoned off by the police.
"We urge the public to remain calm, stop any form of speculation, especially online and let us resolve this quickly," Kimaiyo said.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Interior Mutea Iringo confirmed that the hooded men are indeed armed criminals, but have not establish their identities. Iringo said the government has dispatched air surveillance.
"Gunshots still can be heard from inside the mall. The police have taken charge of the ground floor. The public should stay away from Westgate and its environs and we ask the media to refrain from any unnecessary comments," Kimaiyo said.