SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. An upscale shopping mall in Nairobi is the scene of a deadly standoff.
(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING AND CRYING)
SIMON: Kenyan armed forces are battling gunmen who stormed that mall earlier today. The Red Cross says that at least 20 people have been killed in the attack. NPR's Gregory Warner is on the scene. Greg, thanks for being with us.
GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Thanks, Scott.
SIMON: And what's the latest?
WARNER: Well, I stepped away from the Westgate Mall about a half an hour ago as dusk started to fall here but I was there most of the afternoon. Just to give listeners a sense, I mean, what you have is really the fanciest mall in Nairobi. It's the kind of place where you can eat sushi and cappuccinos while you get your Macbook fixed. And now it's turned into a kind of battleground where Kenyan police have surrounded the area. Counterterrorism officials are here.
Now, there hasn't been much information from the Kenyan police but what we understand is the government is charge of the situation. Security services are bringing the situation under control and apparently the attackers have been pinned down. Kenyan police are confirming 11 dead, though as you said, Kenyan Red Cross is saying that at least 20.
SIMON: Greg, what do we know certifiably at this point about how the attack was undertaken, how it occurred?
WARNER: Well, police, we should say, are treating this at the moment as a terror attack, and what we know is this. That a number of gunmen, now believed to be around five to 10 gunmen, stormed this mall - it's called Westgate Mall - from two entrances. And they started shooting immediately. This was somewhere between 12:30 and 1 P.M. So the mall would have been full of your Saturday lunchtime crowd. That is, of course, why people are saying that the shear firepower and the timing of the attack suggests some kind of an attempt to kill or to take as many hostages, as many civilians as possible.
We do also have heard some reports that the gunmen told all Muslims to leave, and kept non-Muslims there. That's based on some interviews with survivors and some tweets, but still unconfirmed.
SIMON: And can we infer anything from the people who were at the mall, from perhaps the ownership of the mall? Any of that?
WARNER: Well, look, I mean, we know grossly that al-Shabaab has threatened an attack like this in Nairobi. That's al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab, and they've long threatened this in response to Kenyan troops joining the war on terror in Somalia. And but no terrorist group has taken responsibility.
As for the people outside, look, there are so many gawkers and onlookers, that police had to throw tear gas apparently to disperse some of the crowds for their own safety. But that crowd includes many people whose loved ones are still trapped inside. So that, you know, they don't really know why this has happened but they're just hoping that the news is good.
SIMON: Yeah. What seems to remain to be done at this particular point and as you say, is evening is on there?
WARNER: Well, look, Kenya has been on relatively higher alert recently for terrorist attacks. But right now the whole issue is the ongoing, very dynamic hostage situation. You know, it really depends in this kind of situation where you were in the mall, whether you got out pretty quickly or whether you're still barricaded behind a shoe store or somewhere, or whether you're a hostage. And I should say that the gunmen are supposedly on the top floor. That's where the kids' playground is, and I often take my son there on a given Saturday. Word was that there was an Indian kids cooking competition taking place there on the terrace, and some tweets that the cooks were shot. What's not clear at all if those were adults or children or what is the status of probably the dozens or hundreds of civilians on the top floor.
SIMON: NPR's Gregory Warner in Nairobi. Thanks so much.
WARNER: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.