KENYA -- Gunmen attacked a shopping mall in an upscale district of Nairobi on Saturday, killing more than two dozen people in what is believed to be a targeted attack by extremists against non-Muslim Kenyans and Westerners in the area.
The Red Cross reports 30 dead, according to Agence France-Presse and Easy FM radio. Kenyan police told the Daily Nation that at least more than 50 were also injured in the attack, which was allegedly carried out by five to 10 gunmen with AK-47s and other sophisticated weapons.
Americans were among those injured, Marie Harf, deputy spokesman for the State Department, tells CNN and the BBC.
The attack, which took place midafternoon, according to Kenya's Daily Nation, began after gunmen tossed grenades and opened fire as panicking shoppers fled the building, some jumping down one story from the second floor of the mall to escape, witnesses told the paper.
Nairobi Police Chief Benson Kibue called the incident "a terrorist attack" according to the Associated Press. Witnesses told local news media and the Associated Press that the gunman asked Muslims to leave before opening fire. Kenya is 83% Christian with a sizable Muslim community - about 11% of its 44 million people.
So far, no group has taken responsibility for the attack in which one injured suspect was apprehended, according to the Daily Nation.
Somali's militant al-Shabab rebels are suspected in the attack. The Muslim extremists, who have killed Kenyans near the border and are blamed for church bombings, vowed two years ago to attack Nairobi after Kenya sent troops into Somalia to get control of the situation there.
Off-duty Sgt. Major Frank Mugungu told the Associated Press he saw four male attackers and one female, and that he could clearly identify one of the gunmen as a Somali, though he could not identify the rest.
Military cordoned off the building in the heart of the upscale Westlands district, which is home to upper-class Kenyans and expatriate Westerners - many of whom work for the United Nations - and a locale frequented by tourists. Westgate mall, in particular, is a popular nightspot for hip, young Kenyans who gather there to take in a movie, or share a drink, sushi or tapas. The mall is on Kenya's watch list as a site for attacks, along with its towering conference center and Western hotels such as the Hilton. On Saturday, a local organization was hosting a party for children at the Israeli-owned mall.
The mall, which has dozens of Western brand-name stores, also hosts some restaurants along with its food court and coffee houses. Like most shopping mall complexes in Nairobi, it is manned by security personnel at its entrance, checking bags and shoppers with metal detectors. But locals noted repeatedly in the aftermath of the attacks that these are just cursory checks and that the security guards are no match for armed gunman.
"Just like many other shopping malls and multitudes of places frequented by public, this incidence confirms the checks that take place on entry points are just a sham," wrote reader "jtambo" on the Daily Nation's comment page of the attacks.
Still, security in the city is tight because of prior attacks in the past two decades including one on the U.S. Embassy by al-Qaeda in 1998 that killed more than 200 people. Besides the threat of terrorism, the city faces its own internal threats - sometimes called "Nairobbery" - arising from extreme poverty and income inequality.
Crime and corruption are among the biggest concerns of the locals. The city is one of the most dangerous urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa. Although the situation is better than a decade ago, most middle-class and wealthy urban dwellers refrain from walking on city streets after dark, a situation that has led to the popularity of the city's shopping malls in its rich western districts as quasi-entertainment centers.