Kenyan forces have located militants in shopping mall, says president

Kenya's president has said security forces confronting militants in a Nairobi shopping mall have located the attackers in one part of the building and now have "as good a chance to successfully neutralise the terrorists as we can hope for". As the standoff with gunmen who killed at least 59 people entered a second day and explosions and gunfire were heard, Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenya would seek to conclusively establish who was responsible for the attack and "swiftly and indeed painfully" punish the masterminds. The Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack on the Kenyan capital's Westgate mall, which is frequented by westerners as well as Kenyans.

Several foreigners, including at least three Britons, two French women, a Canadian diplomat and the Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor were among the dead. Nairobi attack A rescuer carries a child to safety at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, after an attack claimed by al-Shabaab militants.

Photograph: Kabir Dhanji/EPA Kenya's Red Cross said in a statement citing police that 49 people had been reported missing. Officials did not make an explicit link but that number could form the basis of the number of people held hostage. "The priority is to save as many lives as possible," said the interior minister, Joseph Lenku, reassuring the families of the hostages. Kenyatta, facing his first major security challenge since his election in March, said the dead included his nephew and his nephew's fiancee – "young lovely people I personally knew and loved".

The attack began when heavily armed militants pulled up in several cars and shot their way into the most upmarket shopping centre in Nairobi, ordering Muslims out if they could prove their religion by reciting a prayer or answering a question on Islam. They started killing those who failed the test. A Kenyan woman is helped to safety after shootings in a Nairobi shopping mall A Kenyan woman is helped to safety.

Photograph: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images Shoppers, expatriates and rich Kenyans fled in any direction that might be safe: into back corners of stores, back service hallways and bank vaults. Over the next several hours, pockets of people poured out of the mall as undercover police moved in. Some of the wounded were being transported in shopping trolleys. The dead included children, and the wounded ranged in age from two to 78. Many victims were at a cooking competition when assailants stormed in with automatic rifles, witnesses said.

Blood lay in pools in the mall. Shop windows were shattered. Following similar methods to the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, the assailants barricaded themselves in different shops in the multistorey centre. One wounded gunman was arrested, but later died in hospital. A wounded woman is helped to safety after gunmen opened fire in a shopping centre in Nairobi, Kenya A wounded woman outside the shopping centre in Nairobi.

Photograph: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images As shoppers inside the mall made their way to safety, witness accounts of the attack began to emerge. The gunmen carried AK-47s and wore vests with hand grenades on them, said Manish Turohit, 18, who hid in a parking garage for two hours.

"They just came in and threw a grenade. We were running and they opened fire. They were shouting and firing," he said after marching out of the mall in a line of 15 people who all held their hands in the air. Frank Mugungu, an off-duty army sergeant major, said he saw four male attackers and one female attacker. "One was Somali. The others were black," he said.

"We started by hearing gunshots downstairs and outside. Later we heard them come inside. We took cover. Then we saw two gunmen wearing black turbans. I saw them shoot," said Patrick Kuria, an employee at Artcaffe, a restaurant with shady outdoor seating.