Nairobi: At least 20 people dead in shooting the Kenyan Red Cross says

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A gun battle inside a shopping centre in the Kenyan capital Nairobi has left at least 20 people dead, the Kenyan Red Cross says.

The gunmen attacked Westgate centre – one of the city’s most exclusive. Dozens of shoppers fled, several are still feared trapped inside.

Some reports suggested it was an attempted robbery – but officials say it might be a “terrorist” attack.

Somali militant group al-Shabab had threatened to strike the centre. They are opposed to Kenya sending troops to fight in Somalia.

It was a continuous exchange of fire and few loud explosions. No group has admitted responsibility.

Officers have now surrounded the building in an attempt to evacuate remaining shoppers. A military helicopter has landed nearby.

Police told AFP news agency that gunmen had taken at least seven people hostage.

Eyewitnesses say masked attackers threw grenades into the building at about midday local time (09:00 GMT).

Nairobi police chief  Benson Kibue told AP news agency that the gunmen had been trying to rob a shop within the mall when the shooting began.

The BBC has received the following emails from someone who was hiding at the scene

11:33: Am hiding in a store, my next person (is) an Indian shot. Severe shooting going on within the premises. I left (a) parcel in my car mid of the road, praying.

12:28: Thugs inside, we don’t know when the police will rescue us, all over TVs and radio, we are warned not to move, am in a dark store, more police coming.

12:38: I don’t even know if I stopped engine of car. Nobody is going out, only police. Praying they ditch thugs out. It is a big shopping mall, now knowing where thugs are is hard. Getting out of here is a mystery. My next person (is) an Indian shot and bleeding.

Arjen Westra, who was drinking coffee at the time of the attack, told the BBC he thought the cafe he was in was being targeted by the gunmen.

“I could hear the gunfire moving towards the main entrance of the shopping mall, so some people ran out of our cafe in a kind of panic, and quite a number just fell down as flat as possible on the ground.”

Security guards used shopping trolleys to wheel out several wounded children and at least one man, AP reports.

“The gunmen tried to fire at my head but missed. There are definitely many casualties,” Sudjar Singh, who works at the shopping centre, told AFP.

“I saw three of the attackers dressed in black and with covered faces and they were carrying heavy rifles,” said another witness

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