A dead white woman has been found among Islamic terrorists killed by soldiers as they stormed the mall where 62 shoppers were slaughtered this weekend, Kenyan officials said.
The claim, made by three sources to news agency Reuters, will fuel speculation that the dead woman is Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of 7/7 bomber Jermaine Lindsay, who is wanted by Kenyan police on a string of terror charges. Police will also investigate the possibility that she is a hostage dressed in one of the terrorist's clothes.
Asked if it was Lewthwaite, dubbed the 'White Widow', an intelligence officer said: 'We don't know.'
Moments after the news broke, Al Shabaab, the Al Qaeda affiliated terror group behind the massacre at Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Centre, used their Twitter feed to claim that Lewthwaite was safe.
It comes as Kenyan special forces were today locked in a fight to the death with Islamic terrorists who have been barricaded inside the Nairobi mall with up to 40 hostages since Saturday.
Witnesses described hearing four large explosions at the Westgate Shopping Centre followed by the sight of thick plumes of smoke and the sounds of fierce gunfire after the military tried to break the three day siege by gaining access from the roof.
It is feared that some of the gunmen, who are from Al Qaeda affiliated group Al Shabaab, may have blown themselves up, though a Kenyan government minister said that militants had set fire to some mattresses in a supermarket as a decoy.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said that three of the terrorists have now been killed and that most hostages were now free.
'We think the operation will come to an end soon', he said. 'We are in control of all the floors, the terrorists are running and hiding in some stores... there is no room for escape'.
The Red Cross has put the death toll at 62 - including four Britons - and say 63 are still missing. At least 175 were injured, including children.
The Westgate Shopping Centre is on fire and a fierce gun battle is underway as Kenyan special forces try to end the three day siege that has killed at least 62 people
Witnesses have reported hearing rapid gun fire at the shopping mall and Kenyan soldiers have been seen moving towards Westgate
A paramedic runs for cover outside the mall in Nairobi after a large explosion was followed by sustained shooting
Security forces say they have evacuated almost all the hostages from the shopping centre, which was on fire earlier on Monday
There are fears the death toll will rise as security forces search the upmarket shopping complex.
Briton Ross Langdon, 33, has been confirmed as one of the dead. The award-winning architect, who had dual nationality with Australia, died alongside his heavily pregnant Dutch partner Elif Yavuz.
She was a a Harvard-educated malaria specialist who worked for the Clinton Health Access Initiative and was just two weeks away from giving birth to her first child.
The identities of the rest of the dead Britons have not been released. But late last night a British man told The Daily Telegraph that he had lost his wife and daughter and had identified their bodies from photographs shown to him by police.
Peruvian national Dr Juan Jesus Ortiz-Iruri, 63, who was due to start work at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine next month, was confirmed among the dead today.
The Kenyan interior ministry said 'almost all' the hostages have been evacuated from the mall hours after it was rocked by a series of blasts.
In a Twitter message it added 'some individuals' have been arrested at Nairobi airport.
In a series of updates, it said 16 Kenyan soldiers had been injured, adding that the focus of the operation is now clearing the building.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said security forces now have control over all four storeys of the shopping mall and are confident there is no escape route for the surviving terrorists.
He said: 'We are doing anything reasonably possible, cautiously though, to bring this process to an end.
'The terrorists could be running and hiding in some stores, but all floors now are under our control.'
A Kenyan minister claimed the heavy black smoke billowing from the shopping mall on Monday was caused by burned mattresses
The area around the mall was teeming with Kenyan soldiers and armoured personnel carriers, as emergency workers and reporters were told to take cover
Kenyan police said they have rescued some hostages after storming the mall and said they are 'increasingly gaining advantage [over] the attackers'
Ross Langdon, 33, was killed alongside his heavily pregnant Dutch partner Elif Yavuz
As Kenyan soldiers and more armoured personnel carriers descended on the mall, a spokesman for terror group Al Shabaab Ali Mohamud Rage said in a statement posted on an Islamist website that those held inside will 'bear the brunt of any force' used by soldiers against the militants.
The statement read: 'We authorise the mujahedeen inside the building to take actions against the prisoners as much as they are pressed.
'We are telling Christians advancing onto the mujahedeen to have mercy for their prisoners who will bear the brunt of any force directed against the mujahedeen.'
There were conflicting reports about the identity of the attackers. Al Shabaab claimed on Twitter last night that the group was being led by Samantha Lewthwaite, who was married to Jermaine Lindsay, one of the 7/7 suicide bombers.
Known as the White Widow, she is wanted by Kenyan police over links to a suspected terrorist cell planning bomb attacks.
A link between Lewthwaite and the Westgate attack was made after soldiers claimed they had seen a white woman in a veil shouting orders to gunman in Arabic.
Meanwhile, a Twitter account claiming to represent Al Shabaab yesterday claimed that terrorists from seven nations are involved in the attack, including the U.S., Britain and Canada.
The HSM Press Office account, which has been suspended twice, claimed the group were Ahmed Nasir Shirdoon, 24, from London, UK; Gen Mustafe Noorduiin, 27, from Kansas City, U.S., Abdifatah Osman Keenadiid, 24, from Minneapolis, U.S., and Ahmed Mohamad Isse, 22, from Saint Paul, U.S; Ismael Guled, 23, from Finland; Abdirizak Mouled, 24, from Ontario, Canada; and Zaki Jama Caraale, 20, and Sayid Nuh, 25, both from Somalia.
A top Kenyan military official said he believes the attackers are 'a multinational collection from all over the world.'
Police officers take cover following a string of explosions and fierce gun fire on Monday - the third day of the siege
Militants inside Westgate Shopping Centre have threatened to kill the remaining hostages as Kenyan security personnel try to end the siege (pictured)
Kenya Security personnel take cover outside the Westgate Mall. Islamist terror group Al Shabaab claimed it carried out the atrocity in which four Britons were killed and 175 people were left injured
Kenyan military said last night that 'most' of the hostages have been freed but a spokesman admitted today that the situation is still not clear
Militants inside the shopping centre said hostages would 'bear the brunt' of any action by the Kenyan military
Terror link: Samantha Lewthwaite, 29, originally from Buckinghamshire, was described as a 'brave lady' by Islamist terror group Al Shabaab
General Julius Karangi said fighters from an array of nations participated in the attack claimed by Al Shabaab, a Somali group allies with al-Qaida.
We have an idea who they are, their nationality and even the number. We are fighting global terrorism here and we have sufficient intel (intelligence) to suggest that.'
As the stand-off entered its third day, sustained bursts of rapid gunfire erupted at dawn and lasted 15 minutes, and soldiers posted around the complex ducked for cover.
This was followed by three big explosions, AFP correspondents at the scene said.
A Kenyan special forces officer said troops had moved in to end the siege with force.
'I saw them only once, I could not see them much," he said. 'It was hide-and-seek, hide-and-seek, hide-and-seek. In the end we had to use full force, we had to finish with these guys.'
Al Shabaab have not said how many people were being held by the dozen-or-so attackers, who marched into the Israeli-owned four-storey complex at midday Saturday, spraying shoppers with machine gunfire and tossing grenades.
One security officer said within half-an-hour of the attack the mall had been turned into 'an abattoir' as gunmen wearing Islamic scarves but Western clothes went on the rampage.
Police chief David Kimaiyo said today that some hostages have been freed. However, a group claiming to represent the Al Shabaab terrorists said they are still fighting inside the building.
In a message on Twitter Mr Kimaiyo wrote: 'Thumbs up to our multi-agency team, we have just managed to rescue some hostages. We're increasingly gaining advantage of the attackers.
'WE ONLY WANT TO KILL KENYANS AND AMERICANS': EXTRAORDINARY ESCAPE OF FRENCH FAMILY
A French woman said she was freed by the Islamic terrorists because they told her they only wanted to kill Kenyans and Americans.
The woman, who only gave her name as Pauline, said she escaped with her two young children, who were given Mars bars by the gunmen.
Pauline said she was asked for forgiveness by the terrorists who told her 'we are not monsters'.
The mother of two, who was in the supermarket when the attack began, said once she agreed Muslims were not 'bad people' they gave her children, Emily, 6, and Eliot, 4, chocolate.
She told The Independent: 'He said we only only want to kill Kenyans and Americans. He then told me I had to change my religion to Islam and said "do you forgive us? do you forgive us?'
She said she was able to escape with another two children, including a wounded 12-year-old boy whose mother had been murdered.
Terrified children wait by the body of a man after escaping from the shopping centre. Militants have today threatened to kill the remaining hostages
Fleeing: A child runs to safety across the shopping mall following the deadly attack in Nairobi, Kenya. Four Britons have been killed in the attack
Terror: Armed police guide a woman carrying a child to safety at Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi
Desperation: A crowd of people hold their arms out to catch a Kenyan woman as she jumps out from the air vent where she had been hiding from the gunmen
Moving quickly: An image grab taken from AFP TV shows civilians taking cover following an attack by masked gunmen in a shopping mall in Nairobi
62 DEAD AND 175 INJURED FROM 14 NATIONS: DETAILS OF KENYA TERRORIST ATTACK VICTIMS BEGIN TO EMERGE
Canadian diplomat Annemarie Desloges was among the 68 people known to have died in the attack. Her husband Robert Munk was injured
President Uhuru Kenyatta's nephew Mbugua Mwangi and his nephew's fiancee Rosemary Wahito were killed.
Radio and TV personality Ruhila Adatia-Sood, was also killed after hosting a cookery competition at the mall.
Reports said she was recently married and six months pregnant.
Kofi Awoonor, a Ghanaian poet, professor and former ambassador to Brazil, Cuba and the United Nations, died after being wounded in the attack, Ghana's presidential office confirmed.
Ghana's ministry of information said Awoonor's son was injured and is responding to treatment.
Two Canadians, including a diplomat, died in the attack, according to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
He paid tribute to the victims and noted the loss of diplomat Annemarie Desloges, who served in Canada's High Commission to Kenya as a liaison officer with the Canada Border Services Agency.
Her spouse Robert Munk was wounded in the attack, but has since been released from the hospital, the Canadian Press reported.
Two Indians, 8-year-old Parmashu Jain and 40-year-old Sridhar Natarajan, were killed, and four others were wounded in the attack.
The Foreign Office have confirmed that four UK nationals have been killed in the attack.
Prize-winning architect Ross Langdon, who had dual British and Australian citizenship, is believed to be one of the dead.
A British man, who refused to give his name, said his wife and daughter were both killed in the atrocity.
The Foreign Office warned the number of British dead is 'likely to rise as further information becomes available.'
Two French women were killed, President Francois Hollande said.
One South African citizen was killed, according to the country's International Relations Department.
A 33-year-old Dutch woman died in the attack, believed to be Elif Yavuz, the heavily pregnant partner of British architect Mr Langdon.
Seven other Dutch citizens who were in the mall escaped unharmed, Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said.
A 38-year-old Chinese woman with the surname Zhou who worked in the real estate industry was killed in the attack, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported. Her son was injured in the attack and was in stable condition in a hospital, according to the Chinese Embassy in Kenya.
A retired staff member of UNICEF from Peru was killed, the agency's regional office for Eastern and Southern Africa said.
Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine confirmed today that Dr Juan Jesus Ortiz-Iruri, 63, who had worked in Britain, was among the dead.
Colleague Professor Nynke van den Broek said: 'He had dedicated his professional life to improving health systems in Africa and Asia, particularly in the area of maternal, child and new-born health. Juan had worked with us on a range of maternal and new-born health programmes for some time from his base in Nairobi and we were all looking forward to welcoming him as a full time member of staff in Liverpool later this week. His loss will be felt by us all both professionally and personally.'
Five American citizens were injured, U.S. officials said.
Andrew McLaren, 34, a New Zealander who managed a factory in Kenya for the avocado oil company Olivado, was wounded in the attack, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed. He was hospitalised in stable condition.
The Swiss government confirmed that one of its citizens was injured in the attack. It said its embassy in Nairobi is in contact with the victim's family and local officials, but would not provide further detail on the victim's name.
Tense: Kenyan paramilitary officers walk towards a small shopping arcade adjacent to the Westgate shopping mall where the fate of the hostages remained unclear on Monday morning
Tense: Soldiers from the Kenya Defense Forces walk out of the mall, following the sound of explosions and gunfire
Distressing: A woman holds a baby sitting with other injured people who are crying for help after gunmen went on a shooting spree in the Westgate shopping centre
Shock: A soldier directs people up stairs inside the Westgate shopping mall. Some fled and sought refuge in shops, bank vaults and store rooms as grenades exploded and bullets fired around them
WHO ARE AL SHABAAB?
Al Shabaab - which means 'The Youth' in Arabic - was formed in Somalia in 2006 as an offshoot of the Union of Islamic Courts.
Experts say it has up to 9,000 fighters, including foreigners.
In 2010, the group carried out a double bombing in Uganda, targeting people watching the football World Cup final.
A total of 77 people were killed.
The group formally ran large parts of Somalia's south but has been pushed back by the African Union force in the past couple of years, in which Kenyan troops played a large part.
Al Shabaab, which is banned in the UK and the U.S., was forced out of Somalia's capital of
Mogadishu in 2011.
'I saw them only once, I could not see them much,' he said. 'It was hide-and-seek, hide-and-seek, hide-and-seek. In the end we had to use full force, we had to finish with these guys.'
The HSM Press Office account, which has been suspended twice and claims to have contact with the terrorists inside, wrote today: 'They’ve obtained large amounts of ammunition and are, by the blessings of Allah alone, still firm and still dominating the show #Westgate.'
The attacks have a chilling similarity to those in Mumbai in 2008 where terrorist besieged hotels, community centres and streets in 12 co-ordinated attacks, leaving more than 170 dead.
Following chairing a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee in Whitehall, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the UK had offered assistance to Kenya.
He said: 'Cobra met this morning and had an updated assessment of the situation. I can confirm that there is a fourth British national confirmed dead and the next of kin have been informed.
'We’re in close touch with the Kenyan authorities and we stand ready to provide them with any additional assistance they require.'
A British businessman said four members of his family were killed in the atrocity.
Samir Bharma, from Spinney Hills, Leicester, was last night making arrangements to fly to the Kenyan capital and said his relatives were killed while taking part in a recording of a television programme called Masterchef Junior.
He said: 'They were young people who were taking part in a cookery contest that was taking place in the centre. Unfortunately they have all passed away.
'An aunt - my dad's cousin - she's critical in hospital. I've spoken to my father who is there, but contact is difficult.'
Another Leicester man said his parents and brother and sister were in the shopping mall when the terrorists struck.
The man, in his 20s, wishes to remain anonymous after his mother warned him that terrorists had hacked into Facebook accounts of Nairobi residents and left the chilling warning 'we are watching you'.
He said: '[My mother] was just passing by in the upper mall. The whole thing was taking place on the ground floor and she just saw gunmen wandering around everywhere and shooting people. She saw her best friend being shot straight in the head.
'My sister just froze to the spot. My brother dragged my sister out into the parking lot. At that point the parking lot was secure and people could leave.'
Hunting down the terrorists: Soldiers from the Kenya Defence Forces arrive at the Westgate Shopping Centre in the capital Nairobi
Help: Relatives and friends of victims line up to donate blood in Nairobi, following the overwhelming numbers of casualties from the Westgate mall shooting
Siege: People look at the Westgate shopping mall in the distance where hostages were held for three days
Survivors of the siege told today how terrorists, their faces hidden with Islamic scarves, stormed the shopping mall and started tossing grenades and spraying shoppers with AK-47s.
The gunmen ordered all Muslims to leave before carrying out rudimentary tests to see if hostages could recite the Koran and name the mother of the Prophet Mohammed.
As soldiers began working their way through the shopping centre yesterday they discovered that piles of bodies had been pushed against doors to slow their progress.
Reports on where the terrorists are holed up differ, with some reports suggesting they have barricaded themselves and dozens of hostages in a toilet block on the ground floor.
A French woman, known only as Pauline, said the terrorists told her they only wanted to kill Kenyans and Americans.
Al Shabaab has demanded that President Uhuru Kenyatta must pull out Kenyan troops from Somalia.
Troops have pushed the militants on to the defensive over the past two years as part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission. Kenyatta refused.
The president, who lost a nephew in Saturday's killing, vowed to hold firm in the 'war on terror' in Somalia and said, cautiously, that Kenyan forces could end the siege.
'I assure Kenyans that we have as good a chance to successfully neutralise the terrorists as we can hope for,' he said. 'We will punish the masterminds swiftly and painfully.'
Horror: Shoppers hurry down an escalator with their hands in the air as they make their way out of the shopping centre to safety
Killings: The fate of the hostages remained unclear this morning despite earlier statements from police saying most of those held had been rescued
Desperation: An injured woman, whose face and clothes are drenched in blood, lies on the ground outside the shopping mall screaming for help
Escape: Women carrying children run for safety after al Shabaab terrorists stormed Westgate shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya armed with guns and grenades
Spree: Shots are still being heard in the mall as police and terrorists engage in a stand-off
Hands up: Hostages of all nationalities head for the exit with their arms raised to show they are not carrying any weapons
Scramble: People crawl on their stomachs to safety as security forces keep a lookout at the Nairobi mall on Saturday
Judges at the International Criminal Court adjourned the trial of Kenyan Vice President William Ruto today for a week to allow him to return home to deal with the hostage crisis.
Ruto and Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, face charges of crimes against humanity in relation to their role in coordinating a wave of violence that swept Kenya in the aftermath of the country's contested 2007 elections.
The court's unusually swift decision was taken during an emergency session after prosecutors said they had no objection to a short delay in proceedings, and a representative for the witnesses broke down in tears in the courtroom, saying Ruto should be allowed to attend to the urgent matter.
Wounded: A Kenyan policeman sits clutching his stomach alongside his rifle while a colleague exchanges fire with the terrorists
Scared: Clearly distressed, this family join hands as they make their way out of the building. Bullet wounds can be seen in the glass behind them
Cat and mouse: A security officer points out the location of where some of the terrorists may be hiding to his colleagues, all three of whom have their pistols at the ready
Protection: A mother and her children lie on the floor as they attempt to hide while the gunmen armed with automatic weapons go on the rampage
Terrified: A young girl in tears is led away form the terror by a police officer
Children: A soldier carries one of the survivors to safety as armed police hunt for the gunmen
Rescue: A policeman carries a baby to safety on the barrel of his gun while a woman ducks for safety behind him
Rescue: A woman is shipped to an ambulance in a shopping trolley by centre staff
Family mall: Customers who had planned a Saturday of shopping were forced to run following a shootout between unidentified armed men and the police
Share or comment on this article
Headlines Newsview all
After spending a day with inmates of the Ikoyi and Kirikiri prisons, Lagos, KUNLE FALAYI brings an account of what it is like to be ... Full story
The Vatican on Friday announced the death of Jozef Wesolowski, an ex-diplomat who was to be the first high-ranking Vatican official to stand trial for ... Full story
Rate this article
A stunning and pregnant Mercy Johnson celebrated her birthday with her husband and kids . She looks amazing! ... Full story
Cristiano Ronaldo has given his old friend and former football teammate, Albert Fantrau a special recognition publicly after recounting how he sacrificed his own football ... Full story
When all the butterflies have fluttered away and your wedding day becomes a distant memory, you will discover that you’ve married someone who is just ...
Mr James Adedapo, a retired civil servant has got a nod for his divorce suit against his wife, Oluwatoyin, at the Grade ‘C’ Customary Court ...
Nollywood actress, Rukky Sanda, known for her regular flaunting of her wears on social media, has disclosed that she is not happy that she is ...
Nollywood actress, Mercy Aigbe, is not just making a mark in acting alone but in fashion, hair and recently cosmetic line which she just added. In ...
The Nigerian entertainment industry both Nollywood and acting is really buzzing these days as new talents are being discovered all trying to make a name ...
Nollywood actress, Liz Anjorin, is one blunt actress who does not care what people will have to say about her as she believes she plans ...
Royal Arts Academy in conjunction with Nollywood Workshop released a new block buster movie, titled ‘Code of Silence, ’which explores the very important themes of ...