Kenyan soldiers looted Westgate mall during siege, say traders

Store owners in the upmarket Nairobi shopping mall where 67 people were killed this month in Kenya's bloodiest militant attack in years said on Monday soldiers sent in to end the four-day siege looted electronics, jewellery and cash tills.

The government said it took such allegations seriously but had also acted to protect stock in the Westgate centre, where prosperous Kenyans and foreigners who frequented the complex could buy iPads, Swiss watches and jewel-encrusted necklaces.

The interior minister said only three shops had reported looting and others had said their stock was untouched.

But in the aftermath of the massacre, store owners and many Kenyans are angry that goods appeared to have been looted even when the troops tasked with hunting down the 15 or so heavily armed gunmen had locked down the building.

"The whole place has been done over," said Tariq Harunani, an optician allowed into the mall late on Sunday, adding dozens of pairs of sunglasses and frames were stolen from his store.

"The watch counters have been cleared, the jewellery shop is empty, there's no jewellery on the necklace stands," he said.

'They ransacked it'
His brother Yasser said: "We know who's done it but what can we do? They ransacked it. The military secured the place and in that time the place is emptied.

"This is Kenya. Let's just face it, what's lost is lost."

The raid has shocked the nation and the world for the brazen way the attackers stormed in spraying people with bullets and throwing grenades, confirming fears in the region and the West that Somalia remains a training ground for militant Islam.

Parliamentarians, visiting the mall area on Monday, said they would determine whether security chiefs had failed to act on intelligence of an impending attack. They are expected to question top officers and others this week.

Traders say they cannot blame members of the public who fled in terror on the day of the attack on September 21 or trickled out from hiding places on subsequent days for the emptied stores, some captured in photos shared with journalists.

Harunani, whose account of ransacked stores was echoed by three others, said he had been hit by a stomach-churning stench of rotting bodies believed to be buried under rubble in the mall. Bullet holes pock-marked the smoke-damaged walls and parts of the ground floor were flooded, he said.

Prosecuting the guilty
Another trader who sold stationery in Westgate, which was packed on the Saturday lunchtime when the attackers charged in, said dozens of bullet casings lay around a mat on the first floor.

"All the shop fronts have been shot up," the store owner said, declining to give his name. "We've lost laptops and cash."

Outside the mall Harunani and others lined up to be allowed back into the building on Monday to salvage what remained, some with trucks to carry out wares, others with cardboard boxes.

One grim-faced sandwich vendor wheeled out blood-stained plastic tables on a trolley.

"We wish to affirm that government takes very seriously allegations of looting and that those found to have engaged in looting will be prosecuted," Interior Minister Ole Lenku said.

He said only three businesses had reported their stores had suffered such theft, while others said goods on their premises were intact. He did not address who might have been responsible and urged anyone with information on looting to tell the police.

'Drastic' recommendations
The attack on the mall was the deadliest single attack on Kenyan soil since al-Qaeda's east Africa cell bombed the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing more than 200 people. Lawmakers investigating the attack said on Monday intelligence bosses had received warning of an impending strike.

Asman Kamama, who chairs Parliament's national security and administration committee, said their investigation would determine whether security chiefs had "slept on their jobs".

"We want to know who didn't do what," Kamama told reporters.

Ndung'u Gethenji, chairperson of the Defence and Foreign Relations Committee, said their report could include "drastic" recommendations including a "re-think of Kenya's hospitality in supporting refugee camps within [its] borders."

Kenya hosts many refugees from the region, including the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab, in eastern Kenya, which is home to more than 500 000 mostly Somali refugees who have fled two decades of violence across the nearby porous border.

Kenya's government has been pressuring the Somali government and aid agencies to repatriate the refugees.

The investigation will publish its findings within a month, lawmakers said.

Al-shabab, which claimed responsibility for the attack, on Monday kept up its taunts aimed at the Nairobi government, which it said had failed to uncover the attackers' identities.

"The futility of the investigation will soon be laid bare for the world to see as they try to piece together this jigsaw puzzle," the militants said on Twitter.

Leaders commemorate the dead
Meanwhile, Kenyan lawmakers investigating alleged security failings during the deadly assault were due to meet on Tuesday, as leaders gathered to commemorate the 67 killed.

Politicians from both Parliament's national security and defence and foreign relations committees visited the mall on Monday afternoon, picking their way through shattered glass and pools of congealed blood in the main hall.

Dalmas Otieno, a member of the national security committee, said lawmakers would meet on Tuesday to "set up a programme" for the investigations, which are expected to last for at least several weeks.

It is expected they would meet after inter-faith prayers attended by President Uhuru Kenyatta and led by leaders from the Muslim, Christian and Hindu communities.

Kenyan and foreign investigators continued to comb the carcass of the Westgate mall for clues on the perpetrators of the raid and ensuing siege.

Rights groups condemned comments by the lawmakers that they would also "rethink" Kenya's hosting of some half a million Somali refugees, accusing the camps – notably Dadaab – of being a "training ground" for Somali extremists.

Somali refugees in Kenya, many of whom themselves fled al-Shabab, have expressed fears they will be targeted in reprisal raids.

'Security threats'
​"While protecting Kenyans from security threats is an urgent priority, Human Rights Watch is concerned about reports that some members of parliament have called for the closure of the Somali refugee camps in Kenya," said Human Rights Watch's Gerry Simpson.

"These camps are currently home to over 400 000 refugees, including many forced to flee to Kenya because of al-Shabab abuses. Forcing them back to a country still wracked by widespread violence and insecurity would not only breach Kenya's obligations under international law, but could inflame further instability in Somalia." – Reuters; AFP

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