JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A terrorist group holding hostages in a Nairobi shopping mall threatened to kill them, as heavy gunfire sounded in the Westgate mall early Monday in the Kenyan capital.
A spokesman for the Al Shabab terror group, Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, said the hostages would be killed if security forces attack.
"Israelis and Kenyan forces have tried to enter Westgate by force but they could not. The mujahedin will kill the hostages if the enemies use force," Rage said in an audio statement posted online.
Neither Rage nor Kenyan security forces have confirmed the number of hostages or their condition.
Kenyan military spokesman Cyrus Oguna told Reuters on Monday that very few people were being held hostage.
Ten to 15 terrorists are inside the mall, according to Kenyan authorities. Sixty-eight people died in the attack and 175 were injured, officials said.
As the siege entered its third day, heavy gunfire rang out at dawn, after Oguna said late Sunday that the final assault to dislodge the terrorists had been launched.
A military helicopter flew overhead, and sporadic gunfire was heard from inside the mall.
Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto was excused from his trial for crimes against humanity at The Hague and allowed to fly home. His lawyer, Karim Kahn, compared the shopping mall attack to the Sept. 11, 2001, Twin Towers attacks, calling it "Kenya's 9/11."
Presiding judge Chile Eboe-Osuji said, "In light of the circumstances and the views heard so far, the chamber decided to excuse Mr. Ruto from the proceedings."