Closed circuit footage captured during the Westgate shopping mall siege along with eyewitness accounts reveal extensive looting by Kenyan soldiers who were tasked with securing the site during the terrorist attack last month, a Kenyan newspaper reports.
According to Kenya’s The Star whose reporters viewed the CCTV footage, three soldiers are seen exiting the Nakumatt supermarket with plastic shopping bags filled with cash.
Just hours after Islamist gunmen entered the upscale mall on Saturday September 21, a soldier is seen on tape at 9:12pm dumping the cash from a cash register into a plastic Nakumatt bag as a fellow soldier holds the bag open. The soldier then moves on to another register which he methodically empties, The Star reports.
According to the report, another officer is seen emerging from the supermarket heading toward the underground parking lot while holding two big plastic shopping bags, after which he returns and peruses the shelves.
Three other soldiers are also seen on tape taking items off of the supermarket shelves, according to the Kenyan newspaper report.
“Mannequins were stripped clean, jewelry cases smashed, racks of expensive suits carted off, dozens of cash registers cracked open and at least one member of the Kenyan security services arrested, caught with a bloody wallet,” is how the New York Times described the scene that met shopkeepers once they were given the all clear to return to the mall.
Cash registers, parking machines and safes were reportedly pried and in some cases shot open, while various electronics were pilfered including laptops, cameras, stereo equipment and smart phones as well as luxury goods like Swiss watches and perfume. The New York Times reports that even in parts of the mall the terrorists never entered, display cases were emptied.
The Globe and Mail reports that money and cellphones were extracted from the handbags of shoppers who had fled the scene in a panic.
The reported theft rampage began about two hours after military forces entered the mall.
The Star details just how extensive the looting was: “Virtually all the shops in the mall were looted except the Bata shoe shop. Jewelry, watch and mobile shops were emptied. ATMs, banks and a casino also lost funds.”
“Amateur video shows bottles of alcohol all over Artcaffe after a drinking spree,” it adds.
An eyewitness told the Associated Press that he saw a soldier take cigarettes out of a dead man’s pocket.
While police are reviewing the footage, the military is seeking the public’s help in identifying those who engaged in looting. In a statement issued Thursday, the Kenyan military said it is “committed to get to the bottom of this.” Soldiers found to have looted "will be firmly dealt with," the statement said.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced an inquiry into the response of police and the military which even before the looting allegations was viewed as having been slow and ineffective.
Various theories are being debated in the public in light of the fact that mainly Kenyan army officials were allowed to enter the mall once the siege was underway.
“More and more Kenyans believe those soldiers methodically cleaned out the mall, and that the barrages of gunfire ringing out for days were being directed not at the last of the militants but at safes and padlocks to blast them open. Some business leaders even question whether the Kenyan army deliberately prolonged the crisis by saying shooters were still in the building when they were actually dead, to give themselves extra time to steal,” reports the New York Times.
Presidential Spokesman Manoah Esipisu tells The Daily Telegraph that the looting claims “would definitely be investigated” as part of the official inquiry
“I have not seen that particular footage, but I can say that it and all other CCTV will form part of the commission of inquiry,” he said.
Army spokesmen have denied that troops engaged in theft at the mall.
“The evidence of looting is disturbing because it suggests that Kenya's poorly paid and corrupt soldiers could be bribed to turn a blind eye to terrorist threats to the country. There is already speculation that the Westgate attackers may have entered the country by bribing border guards,” reports the Globe and Mail.