A wounded woman is helped to safety outside the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 21, 2013. (Xinhua/George M. Mulala)
by Chrispinus Omar, Christine Lagat, Peter Mutai, Chris Mgidu and Njoroge Kaburo
NAIROBI, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- The hostage standoff between gunmen and Kenyan security forces has continued into Sunday, about 20 hours after the shooting rampage broke out around Saturday noon at an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, killing at least 39 people.
Gunshots can still be heard from the mall from time to time. Kenyan security forces are entering the mall, trying to rescue the hostages alive.
The number of hostages is still unknown, Kenya's KTN TV station reported, citing the Kenya National Disaster Operation Center. Hostages are held in multiple locations and gunmen are contained in one location, the report said.
The husband of a lady who is trapped in the Nakumatt supermarket on the ground floor of the mall told Xinhua that she sent him a message through cellphone which said there are about 60 to 70 people trapped in the supermarket. The message was sent around 3:43 a.m. Relatives of some other hostages said there are many bodies in the supermarket.
A Kenyan police officer told Xinhua that the gunmen have been cornered but the standoff is still going on as they are holding hostages.
Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta said in a televised address on late Saturday that the gunmen killed at least 39 people and injured more than 150 others.
"With the entire nation, I stand with the families of those who have lost their lives and extend every Kenyan's deepest condolences," Kenyatta said.
The emotional Kenyatta also confirmed that he lost some of his very close family members. "I know how you feel, having also personally lost very close family members. I ask God to give all of us comfort as we confront this tragedy."
He said "the despicable perpetrators of the cowardly act that left both locals and foreigners dead or injured hoped to intimidate, divide and cause despondency among Kenyans." He said security has been enhanced across the East Africa nation, with numerous measures put in place to hunt down perpetrators of the heinous act.
The government stands ready to defend the nation from internal and external aggressors, he said. Kenya has overcome terrorist attacks before and will defeat them again, he addressed.
"We shall hunt down the perpetrators wherever they run to. We shall get them. We shall punish them for this heinous crime," he said.
Kenyatta made the speech as the standoff continues into the night between police officers and the armed men in the mall, hours after the shootout began in the morning.
The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) secretary general Abbas Gullet told Xinhua earlier that rescue operation is still underway, expressing fears that there would be more casualties since some of the shoppers are still holed up in the mall. However, Kenya's interior ministry is not sure whether there are hostages inside the mall.
KRCS officials also told Xinhua that currently there are no Chinese casualties in the attack. The Chinese Embassy in Kenya's capital Nairobi said that the preliminary findings showed that there are no Chinese casualties so far in the attack.