Nairobi: Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants, claiming they were still holding hostages, on Tuesday battled Kenyan troops for the fourth day of a bloody siege at a Nairobi mall and threatened further attacks against the country.
Sporadic gunfire and a series of explosions at the upmarket Westgate shopping centre rang out throughout the day, despite officials earlier claiming Kenyan troops had wrested back "control" of the sprawling complex from Somalia`s Shabaab insurgents, who are said to include Americans and a British woman.
More than 60 shoppers, staff and soldiers have been killed and close to 200 wounded in the siege, but concerns are high that the toll may rise, with the Shabaab boasting about "countless number of dead bodies still scattered inside the mall".
The fate of 63 people listed as missing is unknown.
"The hostages who were being held by the mujahedeen inside Westgate are still alive, looking quite disconcerted but, nevertheless, alive," the Shabaab said on Twitter.
But Kenyan officials have said all the hostages are believed to have been freed, with the interior ministry saying Tuesday the assault was "very near the end".
Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage has said the carnage was in retaliation for Nairobi`s two-year battle against the extremists` bases in southern Somalia.
He threatened further attacks if Kenya did not pull its troops out of Somalia, warning the siege was just "a taste of what we will do... you should expect black days".
Shabaab fighters stormed the crowded mall midday on Saturday, tossing grenades, firing automatic weapons and sending panicked shoppers fleeing.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said among the fighters were several American nationals and a British woman, which media reports have speculated could be a Muslim convert known as the "White Widow".
Government spokesman Manoah Esipisu told AFP that special forces were now "sanitising" the complex in case "there are a couple of them hiding in a remote room or corner".
"We think that everyone, the hostages, have been evacuated," Esipisu said.
Special forces killed at least three gunmen yesterday and wounded several in bitter fighting in the part Israeli-owned complex, popular with wealthy Kenyans and expatriates.
Three Kenyan soldiers died today from injuries sustained in those gun battles, the army said. Eight others remain in hospital.
Kenyan army chief Julius Karangi said the attackers were from "different countries".
Many foreign fighters, including Somalis with dual nationalities, are members of the Shabaab force.