Traders allege Kenyan forces looted mall after siege


The scene inside the FoneXpress computer shop on the ground floor of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Store owners said on Monday that soldiers sent in to end the four-day siege looted electronics, jewelry and cash tills. (AP)
September 30, 2013

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

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

The interior minister said that only three shops had reported looting and that 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 Sunday. He said dozens of frames and pairs of sunglasses were stolen from his store. “The watch counters have been cleared. The jewelry shop is empty. There’s no jewelry on the necklace stands,” he said.

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 shocked the nation and the world for the brazen way the attackers from the Somali Islamist group al-
Shabab 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.

Parliament members, visiting the mall area 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 Sept. 21 or trickled out from hiding places on subsequent days from the emptied stores, some captured in photos shared with journalists.

Tariq 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 marked the smoke-damaged walls, and parts of the ground floor were flooded, he said.

A trader who sold stationery in Westgate, which was packed with a Saturday lunch crowd when the attackers charged in, said dozens of bullet casings lay on a mat on the first floor.

— Reuters

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