Editor’s note: The pictures contained in this story may be disturbing to some. Story written by the Associated Press, curated by Jonathon M. Seidl.

UPDATE:

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya’s interior Cabinet secretary says at least 59 people were killed and 175 wounded in the attack by al-Qaida-linked militants at an upscale mall in Nairobi.

Joseph Lenku said Sunday that about 1,000 people have been rescued so far from the Westgate mall.

The gunmen remain inside with hostages nearly 24 hours after they launched the attack with grenades and assault rifles.

Lenku said that there are 10 to 15 attackers involved. He said that Kenyan forces have control of the security cameras inside the mall. Combined military and police forces have surrounded the building.

The Somali militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, and targeted non-Muslims.

Original story below.

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Terrified shoppers huddled in back hallways and prayed they would not be found by the Islamic extremist gunmen lobbing grenades and firing assault rifles inside Nairobi’s top mall Saturday. When the coast was thought to be clear, crying mothers clutching small children and blood-splattered men sprinted out of the four-story mall.

At least 30 people were killed in the assault, with fears the toll could rise further, said Kenya Red Cross official Abbas Gullet.

The al-Qaida-linked gunmen asked the victims they had cornered if they were Muslim: If the answer was yes, several witnesses said, those people were free to go. The non-Muslims were not.

Terrorist Attack: Gunmen Kill At Least 25 After Opening Fire With AK 47s in Kenyan Mall

An injured Kenyan man talks on the phone upon his arrival at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, on September 21,2013 after masked attackers stormed a packed upmarket shopping mall, spraying gunfire and killing 30 people and wounding dozens more before holing themselves up in the complex. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Terrorist Attack: Gunmen Kill At Least 25 After Opening Fire With AK 47s in Kenyan Mall

A Kenyan woman is helped to safety after masked gunmen stormed an upmarket mall and sprayed gunfire on shoppers and staff, killing at least six on September 21, 2013 in Nairobi. The Gunmen have taken at least seven hostages, police and security guards told an. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Somalia’s Islamic extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility and said the attack was retribution for Kenyan forces’ 2011 push into Somalia. The rebels threatened more attacks.

Foreigners are expected to be among the casualties. There are reports of American citizens injured in the attack but the United States State Department said it had no further details.

Terrorist Attack: Gunmen Kill At Least 25 After Opening Fire With AK 47s in Kenyan Mall

A security officer helps a wounded woman outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Saturday, Sept. 21 2013, after gunmen threw grenades and opened fire during an attack that left multiple dead bodies and dozens wounded. A witness to the attacks on the upscale shopping mall says that gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted. Credit: AP

As night fell in Kenya’s capital, hostages remained inside the mall, but officials didn’t or couldn’t say how many. Two contingents of army special forces troops had moved inside as the stand-off stretched into its ninth hour.

Police and military surrounded the huge shopping complex as helicopters buzzed overhead. An Associated Press reporter said he saw a wounded Kenyan soldier put into an ambulance at nightfall, an indication, perhaps, of a continuing shoot-out inside.

Witnesses said at least five gunmen – including at least one woman – first attacked an outdoor cafe at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, a shiny, new shopping center that hosts Nike, Adidas and Bose stores. The mall’s ownership is Israeli, and security experts have long said the structure made an attractive terrorist target.

Terrorist Attack: Gunmen Kill At Least 25 After Opening Fire With AK 47s in Kenyan Mall

A policeman carries a baby to safety after masked gunmen stormed an upmarket mall and sprayed gunfire on shoppers and staff, killing at least six on September 21, 2013 in Nairobi. The Gunmen have taken at least seven hostages, police and security guards told an. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

The attack began shortly after noon with bursts of gunfire and grenades. Shoppers – expatriates and rich Kenyans – fled in any direction that might be safe: into back corners of stores, back service hallways and bank vaults. Over the next several hours, pockets of people poured out of the mall as undercover police moved in. Some of the wounded were moved out in shopping carts.

“We started by hearing gunshots downstairs and outside. Later we heard them come inside. We took cover. Then we saw two gunmen wearing black turbans. I saw them shoot,” said Patrick Kuria, an employee at Artcaffe, the restaurant with shady outdoor seating.

Frank Mugungu, an off-duty army sergeant major, said he saw four male attackers and one female attacker. “One was Somali. The others were black,” he said.

Terrorist Attack: Gunmen Kill At Least 25 After Opening Fire With AK 47s in Kenyan Mall

A wounded woman is helped to safety after masked gunmen stormed an upmarket mall and sprayed gunfire on shoppers and staff, killing at least six on September 21, 2013 in Nairobi. The Gunmen have taken at least seven hostages, police and security guards told an. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Al-Shabab, on its Twitter feed, said that it has many times warned Kenya’s government that failure to remove its forces from Somalia “would have severe consequences.” The group claimed that its gunmen had killed 100 people, but its assertions are often exaggerated.

“The attack at (hash)WestgateMall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders,” al-Shabab said. Another tweet said: “For long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land, now it’s time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land (hash)Westgate.”

Al-Shabab threatened in late 2011 to unleash a large-scale attack in Nairobi. Kenya has seen a regular spate of grenade attacks since then but never such a large terrorist assault.

Nairobi’s mortuary superintendent, Sammy Nyongesa Jacob, said Africans, Asians and Caucasians were among the bodies brought to the mortuary.

The U.S. State Department condemned “this senseless act of violence that has resulted in death and injury for many innocent men, women, and children.”

Terrorist Attack: Gunmen Kill At Least 25 After Opening Fire With AK 47s in Kenyan Mall

A body is seen on the floor, below right, as smoke fills the air inside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Gunmen threw grenades and opened fire Saturday, killing at least 22 people in an attack targeting non-Muslims at an upscale mall in Kenya’s capital that was hosting a children’s day event, a Red Cross official and witnesses said. Credit: AP

The U.S. embassy said it was in contact with local authorities and offered assistance. Some British security personnel assisted in the response.

The gunmen told hostages that non-Muslims would be targeted, said Elijah Kamau, who was at the mall at the time of the midday attack.

“The gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave. They were safe, and non-Muslims would be targeted,” he said.

Jay Patel, who sought cover on an upper floor in the mall when shooting began, said that when he looked out of a window onto the upper parking deck of the mall he saw the gunmen with a group of people. Patel said that as the attackers were talking, some of the people stood up and left and the others were shot.

The attack was carried out by terrorists, said police chief Benson Kibue. He did not specify a group. He said it was likely that no more than 10 attackers were involved.

Terrorist Attack: Gunmen Kill At Least 25 After Opening Fire With AK 47s in Kenyan Mall

A woman who had been hiding during the gun battle runs for cover after armed police, seen behind, enter the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Gunmen threw grenades and opened fire Saturday, killing at least 22 people in an attack targeting non-Muslims at an upscale mall in Kenya’s capital that was hosting a children’s day event, a Red Cross official and witnesses said. Credit: AP

Somalia’s president – the leader of a country familiar with terrorist attacks – said his country knows “only too well the human costs of violence like this” as he extended prayers to those in Kenya.

“These heartless acts against defenseless civilians, including innocent children, are beyond the pale and cannot be tolerated. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Kenya in its time of grief for these lives lost and the many injured,” President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said.

Terrorist Attack: Gunmen Kill At Least 25 After Opening Fire With AK 47s in Kenyan Mall

A woman who had been held hostage is carried in shock by rescue personnel on September 21, 2013, after she was freed following a security operation at an upmarket shopping mall in Nairobi where suspected terrorists engaged Kenyan security forces in a drawn out gun fight. Some 20 people have been killed and about 50 wounded Saturday in the initial attack by the gunmen the Kenya Red Cross said. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

The gunmen carried AK-47s and wore vests with hand grenades on them, said Manish Turohit, 18, who hid in a parking garage for two hours.

“They just came in and threw a grenade. We were running and they opened fire. They were shouting and firing,” he said after marching out of the mall in a line of 15 people who all held their hands in the air.

A local hospital was overwhelmed with the number of wounded being brought in hours after the attack, so they had to divert them to a second facility. Dozens of people were wounded. Officials said Kenyans turned out in droves to donate blood.

Terrorist Attack: Gunmen Kill At Least 25 After Opening Fire With AK 47s in Kenyan Mall

Armed police leave after entering the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Gunmen threw grenades and opened fire Saturday, killing at least 22 people in an attack targeting non-Muslims at an upscale mall in Kenya’s capital that was hosting a children’s day event, a Red Cross official and witnesses said. Credit: AP

The United Nations secretary-general’s office said that Ban Ki-moon has spoken with President Uhuru Kenyatta and expressed his concern. British Prime Minister David Cameron also called Kenyatta and offered assistance.

Terrorist Attack: Gunmen Kill At Least 25 After Opening Fire With AK 47s in Kenyan Mall

Civilians who had been hiding during the gun battle hold their hands in the air as a precautionary measure before being searched by armed police leading them to safety, inside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Gunmen threw grenades and opened fire Saturday, killing at least 22 people in an attack targeting non-Muslims at an upscale mall in Kenya’s capital that was hosting a children’s day event, a Red Cross official and witnesses said. Credit: AP

Kenyan authorities said they have thwarted other large-scale attacks targeting public spaces. Kenyan police said in September 2012 they disrupted a major terrorist attack in its final stages of planning, arresting two people with explosive devices and a cache of weapons and ammunition.

Anti-terror Police Unit boss Boniface Mwaniki said vests found were similar to those used in attacks that killed 76 people in Uganda who gathered to watch the soccer World Cup finals on TV in July 2010. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for those bombings, saying the attack was in retaliation for Uganda’s participation in the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

Associated Press reporters Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya, Carley Petesch in Johannesburg and Cassandra Vinograd in London contributed to this report.

This story has been updated.