39 killed and more carnage feared as Kenya mall attackers face off

Updated 9:22 AM EDT, Mon September 23, 2013

Story highlights

NEW: Hostages are being held in several locations, government says

Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked militant group in Somalia, claims responsibility

It says the attackers are "still strong"; Kenyan officials say they are isolated

"Major operation underway," Kenyan government cryptically tweets

(CNN) —  

Armed gunmen faced off with Kenyan police and soldiers inside an upscale Nairobi shopping mall early Sunday, hours after brazenly gunning down shoppers, diners and more.

Around 2:30 a.m. Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET Saturday) – an hour after reporting five “visibly shaken” hostages had been released – Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Centre cryptically tweeted “major operations underway.” What that meant was a mystery, and it didn’t quell fears about what has happened or might happen to an unknown number of civilians who were still unaccounted for inside.

The same agency offered an update about three hours later stating that hostages were being held “in several locations,” adding there was “no communications as yet.” By then, government authorities had secured the mall’s upper levels, though it was not known where the attackers – and the threat – remained.

Hours earlier, Kenya’s president announced that 39 people, including some of his close relatives, were confirmed dead in the attack. Two gunmen, including one who was detained after being shot, are also dead.

Francis Kimenia, secretary to the Cabinet, tweeted another 293 people got treatment at three area hospitals, which “are appealing for more blood.” The wounded range in age from 2 to 78, the disaster operations center said, urging people to “remember them in your prayers.”

Q and A: Al-Shabaab grew amid Somalia’s lawlessness