Kenyan Government Moves To End Deadly Mall Standoff

In Nairobi Sunday night, Kenyan government forces appear to be preparing for a major push to end the standoff in the Westgate Mall. The government says it has cornered the gunmen who stormed the mall Saturday. NPR's Gregory Warner tells host Arun Rath at least 68 people have been killed.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

From NPR West, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Arun Rath.

In Nairobi tonight, Kenyan government officials appear to have made significant gains to end the standoff in the Westgate Mall. There are reports that many of the hostages have now been freed.

NPR's Gregory Warner has been covering the story over the last two days, and he joins me now. Greg, what have you learned about the situation with the hostages?

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: What we know is what you said that Kenya's military says that security forces have taken over most of the mall and that most of the hostages have been rescued. Of course, that's great news for the many people who've been waiting for news of their friends after cellphones died. And clearly, this is a sign from authorities that this now 37-hour siege is nearing the end. In fact, just before that, we had another tweet from Kenya's national Disaster Operation Centre that this will end tonight. Our forces will prevail.

We should say we've been hearing this kind of endgame language for a while now, but - except for a few large explosions. The Westgate Mall has been pretty quiet. Why? You know, who knows? Maybe it's a hostage negotiation. The interior minister said earlier today that his priority was to save as many lives as possible. But al-Shabab tweeted that there would be no negotiation with Kenyan authorities. So until Westgate Mall is liberated, we don't know.

RATH: Hmm. Now, you've confirmed that the al-Qaida-linked group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attacks. What else have you learned about today about the gunmen?

WARNER: Well, so this has come out in the past couple hours. A new Twitter account claimed as al-Shabab after the last Twitter account was shut down by Twitter last night. This new account has published the names, ages and, most importantly, places of origin of nine of the fighters inside Westgate. Again, this is all - an alleged list from al-Shabab. According to this list, they're all men, all in their early to mid-20s. But all but one is from outside Somalia, including three are from the United States - two from Minnesota and one from Kansas.

Now, on background, a senior state department official says they have seen the reports. They're not in a position to confirm, and they're seeking further details. If more details emerge, if some of the attackers now battling in Westgate are American-born, that'll be a whole different story.

RATH: Wow. And can you tell us what you know is next for the hostages who've been freed?

WARNER: Well, look. I mean, what we know is immediately next is to get treatment. And when I was at this triage center talking to the director there, he said that these are folks who have been without water, without food, perhaps for 36 hours, without sleep, running on high adrenaline - even superficial wounds are going to need a lot of care and treatment.

And there are a lot of volunteers there, a lot of EMTs, a lot of people cooking food. It's a real community spirit there with the triage center. They're really excited to receive those hostages.

RATH: That's NPR's Gregory Warner in Nairobi. Greg, thank you so much for keeping us updated on this.

WARNER: Thanks, Arun.

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