UPDATE 1-Kenya says it has a chance to "neutralise" mall attackers

Sun Sep 22, 2013 8:13pm IST

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NAIROBI, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Kenya's president said on Sunday security forces confronting militants in a Nairobi shopping mall had as good a chance "as we can hope for" of neutralising the attackers, and that Kenya wanted to confirm a claim of responsibility by Somali Islamists.

Uhuru Kenyatta, who said a nephew and his nephew's fiancée were among the 59 confirmed killed, said the government had reports of both male and female attackers, consistent with accounts given by witnesses who said they saw women involved.

"The criminals are now located in one place within the building. With the professionals on site, I assure Kenyans that we have as good a chance to successfully neutralise the terrorists as we can hope for," he told a news conference.

The Somali al Shabaab militant group had said it was behind the attack, which began on Saturday, but Kenyatta said investigations were under way to "conclusively establish" who was responsible.

Al Shabaab had said it carried out the attack because of Kenya's intervention in Somalia, where it is now working alongside other African peacekeeping troops to push back Islamic militants.

Asked if he would now consider pulling out troops, Kenyatta said: "We went as a nation into Somalia to help stabilise the country but, most importantly, to fight the war against terror."

"We shall not relent on the war on terror ... It (the attack) has only increased our commitment to fight and win this war."

After similar appeals from opposition and other senior politicians speaking at the presidential residence, Kenyatta also urged foreign nations not issue travel warnings that would damage Kenya's vital tourism industry.

He did not respond when asked whether hostages still inside the mall had explosives strapped to them, saying he would not comment on operations.

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