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Smoke pours from Kenya mall as forces 'close in'; two militants dead

Originally published on September 23, 2013

Two of the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants who raided Nairobi's Westgate mall on Saturday were killed on the third day of the attack in which at least 69 have died, Reuters reported.

It remained unclear how many gunmen and hostages were still cornered in the shopping center, two hours after a series of loud explosions and gunfire were followed by a plume of black smoke, that grew in volume from one part of the complex.

Earlier Reuters reports said that hostages were being held in the cinema on the second floor, as well as in other places on the third and fourth floors.

Kenya's interior minister Joseph Ole Lenku told a news conference that the militants - all men, though some wore women's clothing during the assault - had set a fire with mattresses in a supermarket on the mall's lower floors.

Two "terrorists" had been killed on Monday, he added. Another assailant had died on Saturday.

Reuters also reported that Lenku said he had no information on any explosions and a military spokesman, asked whether the militants had set off charges, declined comment.

Al Shabaab warned it would kill hostages if police moved in.

A senior police officer said the authorities, who have been receiving advice from Western and Israeli experts, were "closing in". Lenku said: "We are doing anything reasonably possible, cautiously though, to bring this process to an end.

He acknowledged "support" from foreign governments but said Kenyan forces were managing without it so far.

Nairobi saw one of the first major attacks by al Qaeda, when it killed more than 200 people with a bomb at the U.S. embassy.

And while some analysts said the latest raid may show al Shabaab lashing out in its weakness after the successes of Kenyan troops in Somalia, the risk of further international violence remains.

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