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Kenyan officials say assault to end siege begins

By Tom Odula

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Sept. 22 2013 1:22 p.m. MDT

Britain's prime minister, in confirming the deaths of three British nationals, told the country to "prepare ourselves for further bad news."

Westgate Mall is at least partially owned by Israelis, and reports circulated that Israeli commandos were on the ground to assist in the response. Four restaurants inside the mall are Israeli-run or owned.

In Israel, a senior defense official said there were no Israeli forces participating in an assault, but the official said it was possible that Israeli advisers were providing assistance. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a classified military issue, would not elaborate.

Israel has close ties to Kenya going back many years. And in recent years, Israel has identified East Africa as an area of strategic interest and stepped up ties with Kenya and other neighboring countries, due to shared threats posed by al-Qaida and other extremist elements. In 2002, militants bombed an Israeli-owned luxury hotel near Mombasa, killing 13 people, and tried to shoot down an Israeli airliner at the same time.

Kenyans and foreigners were among those confirmed dead, including British, French, Canadians, Indians, a Ghanaian, a South African and a Chinese woman.

Kofi Awoonor, a Ghanaian poet, professor and former ambassador to Brazil, Cuba and the United Nations, died after being injured in the attack, Ghana's presidential office confirmed. Ghana's ministry of information said Awoonor's son was injured and is responding to treatment.

Kenya's Red Cross said the death toll on Sunday rose to 68 after nine bodies were recovered in a joint rescue mission.

Kenya's presidential office said that one of the attackers was arrested on Saturday and died after suffering from bullet wounds.

Britain's Foreign Office said that Foreign Secretary William Hague has chaired a meeting of Britain's crisis committee and sent a rapid deployment team from London to Nairobi to provide extra consular support.

The United Nations Security Council condemned the attacks and "expressed their solidarity with the people and Government of Kenya" in a statement.

There was some good news on Sunday, as Kenyan media reported that several people in hiding in the mall escaped to safety in the morning, suggesting that not everyone who was inside overnight was being held by al-Shabab.

Cecile Ndwiga said she had been hiding under a car in the basement parking garage.

"I called my husband to ask the soldiers to come and rescue me. Because I couldn't just walk out anyhow. The shootout was all over here — left, right— just gun shots," she said.

Police lobbed multiple rounds of tear gas throughout the day at hundreds of curious Kenyans who gathered near the mall.

Associated Press reporters Jacob Kushner in Nairobi, Kenya; Josef Federman in Jerusalem; Louise Watt in Beijing; and Cassandra Vinograd in London contributed to this report.

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