Soldiers accused of looting during Kenya mall siege

Nairobi – Jewelry cases smashed and looted. Mobile phones ripped from displays. Cash registers emptied. Alcohol stocks plundered.

For the second straight Kenyan tragedy, poorly paid security forces that moved in control the chaos are being accused of robbing the premises. First the troops were accused of looting during a huge fire in August at Nairobi’s international airport.

Now shop owners at Westgate Mall are returning to their stores following a devastating terrorist attack, in which at least 67 were killed, to find items ransacked and valuables stolen.

One witness told The Associated Press that he even saw a Kenyan soldier take cigarettes out of a dead man’s pocket.

Shop owners and managers spent yesterday carting merchandise and other valuables out of their shops and restaurants to prevent anything more from being taken.

No one can say for sure, but Kenya’s security forces are strongly suspected.

Soon after the attack began on September 21, Kenyan officials put a security cordon around the mall, allowing only security forces and a few government personnel to pass through.

Alcohol stocks from the restaurants have been depleted. One business owner at the mall said money and mobile phones were taken from bags and purses left behind in the mayhem. The owner insisted on anonymity to avoid retribution from Kenya’s government.

Employees of a book shop on the mall’s second floor returned to the corner shop to find cash registers yanked open and the cash gone. The store’s laptops were also stolen. All the shop’s books remained in place, said owner Paku Tsavani.

Perhaps reluctant to blame Kenyan security forces, Tsavani said he doesn’t know who took his goods.

“Obviously the terrorists wouldn’t steal those things, so we just don’t know,” Tsavani said.

Sandeep Vidyarthi went into the mall on Sunday to help a relative retrieve equipment from his dental practice. Inside he said he passed shop after shop that had been looted, including the Rado shop that sells high-end Swiss watches.

As he was exiting the mall, Vidyarthi passed a jewelry shop near the front entrance. The owner, Vidyarthi said, was presenting security officials with a long list of missing precious stones and high-end necklaces now gone.

“The jeweler had written down this very long list,” he said.

It is ironic, the management team of one Westgate business told AP, that store owners now must make reports of stolen goods and present them to security forces, when most here suspect the security forces of having done the thieving.

Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku confirmed the reports of theft in a news conference Sunday. The majority of the responders to the terrorist attack came from Kenya’s military. A military spokesman didn’t answer repeated calls for comment.

“Those responsible for looting will be prosecuted,” Lenku said.

The mall attack also saw good Samaritans.

Paresh Shah, a volunteer who helped evacuate the injured and the dead during the first day of the attack, said he carried out the body of Aleem Jamal.

Shah frowned at the memory and said he saw a Kenyan soldier take Jamal’s cigarettes while in the ambulance.

“I could never do that, take a dead man’s cigarettes,” Shah said.

Jamal’s family retrieved the body at the morgue, where his wife, Taz Jamal, said her husband’s wallet was missing.

A team of terrorists entered Westgate Mall shortly after noon on a busy Saturday, firing guns and throwing grenades. The attackers – the Somali extremist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility – held off Kenya’s military and controlled at least parts of the mall for four days. The mall now has a gaping three-story hole in it from the siege.

More than three dozen people remain unaccounted for almost a week after the end of the four-day attack that killed at least 61 civilians and six security forces, the head of the Kenyan Red Cross said yesterday.

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