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Dublin: 10 °C Friday 18 April, 2014

63 still missing as Kenya begins three days of mourning

The search is under way for bodies under the rubble of Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, after a four day siege by Islamist gunmen that left 67 dead.

KENYAN TROOPS AND rescue workers have been scoured the wreckage of the Wesgate Mall in Nairobi for bodies and booby-trapped explosives after a four-day siege by Islamist gunmen that left 67 dead and dozens more missing.

Rescuers wore face masks and some soldiers wrapped scarves around their mouths to cover what they said was an overpowering stench inside the Westgate centre, once one of the capital’s most upmarket malls. A large part of the centre has collapsed after heavy explosions and a fierce fire.

President Uhuru Kenyatta announced an end to the 80-hour bloodbath last night, confirming the “immense” loss of 61 civilians and six members of the security forces. Police said the death toll was provisional, with the Kenyan Red Cross listing 63 people as still missing.

Across Kenya, flags flew at half mast at the start of three days of official mourning.

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A well-wisher signs the condolences book for Ghanaian poet and former ambassador Kofi Awoonor at the poet’s residence in Accra, [Ghana Christian Thompson/AP/Press Association Images]

“Leading forensic experts” from other countries including America, Britain and Israel are supporting Kenyan teams, civil service chief Francis Kimemia said.

An AFP reporter outside the bullet-riddled Westgate mall also saw teams of sniffer dogs, which will check for explosives and victims buried under the rubble of a collapsed part of the building.

“They are checking for any potential explosive devices left behind,” a security source said, adding that specialist remote-controlled de-mining robots were on hand.

In one of the worst attacks in Kenya’s history, the militants marched into the four-storey, part Israeli-owned mall at midday on Saturday, spraying shoppers with automatic weapons fire and tossing grenades.

Somalia’s Al Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels said the group carried out the attack in retaliation for Kenya’s two-year battle against the extremists’ bases in the country.

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Paramedics take cover during an assault on the complex by security forces on Monday [Sayyid Azim/AP/Press Association Images]

Close to 200 were wounded in the four-day siege, which saw running battles between militants and security forces in the complex.

As well as scores of Kenyans — from ordinary workers to the president’s nephew — many of the dead were foreigners, including six Britons, two Canadians, a Chinese woman, a Dutch woman, two French women, two Indians, a South African and a South Korean.

Five attackers were also killed and 11 suspects detained, Kenyatta said, vowing “full accountability for the mindless destruction, deaths, pain, loss and suffering we have all undergone.”

Kenyatta is due to hold a special cabinet meeting with his national security council later today to “take stock of lessons learnt and formulate the way forward,” Kimemia added.

Families of those still missing are anxiously waiting for news of their relatives, with the Red Cross and expert counsellors and psychologists setting up a centre in Nairobi’s central park to offer support.

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Ramesh Vaya, centre, is comforted by family members after lighting the funeral pyre for his wife Malti, who was shot dead in the attack [Kate Holt/AP/Press Association Images]

There has been growing media speculation at the possible role in the attack of Co Down-born extremist Samantha Lewthwaite, daughter of a British soldier and widow of 7/7 suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay.

Kenyan newspapers have called for the Government to provide people with as much information about those killed as soon as possible.

“The government should just tell us the truth,” The Star newspaper wrote. “They should not try to sanitise… a terrible situation. The public will not blame them.”

Read: Co Down-born woman may have taken part in Nairobi attack >

Read: Kenyan troops “in control” of Westgate Mall >

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