NAIROBI (Reuters) - Security camera footage of soldiers appearing to loot goods during last month’s Nairobi shopping mall siege has infuriated Kenyans who had initially praised troops for their courage in battling the Somali attackers.
A front page headline over the weekend in Kenya’s biggest selling newspaper The Nation read “Shame of soldiers looting Westgate” under the caption “caught on camera”.
Gunmen from the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group massacred at least 67 people when they raided the upmarket Westgate mall, hurling grenades and spraying bullets at shoppers as a punishment for Kenya sending troops to Somalia.
Closed-circuit television footage, distributed by Reuters TV over the weekend, shows soldiers taking goods that appear to be unpacked mobile phone boxes from a phone store while others are in a mobile money transfer shop.
A couple of meters from the shop, a pool of spattered blood identifies the spot where a wounded man, crawling on the floor, was shot five times at point-blank range by an unidentified gunman, another scene captured on video.
Soldiers with plastic shopping bags are also seen leaving the Nakumatt supermarket, where prosperous Kenyans could buy anything from TV sets to French cheese, at a time when the Islamist rebels were still holed up inside the mall.
Emmanuel Chirchir, a spokesman for the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), said on Sunday that a news conference, organized for Wednesday, would deal with looting allegations arising from the latest CCTV footage to emerge.
Kenya’s Interior Minister Ole Lenku said three bodies of “terror suspects” had been recovered from the mall during the week and on Sunday the body of what was believed to be a fourth attacker was pulled from the rubble.
Lenku said the government would not comment on the nationalities of the attackers until forensic investigations were complete. Four AK47 assault rifles and 11 magazines used by the gunmen were also recovered, he added in a statement.
Diplomats and Kenyan official now believe that the attack may have involved as few as four to six gunmen, down from initial estimates of more than 10.
University of Nairobi student Ndeva Vitalis said findings by a parliamentary committee set up to probe the four-day siege, which on Thursday exonerated soldiers of looting, were a lie.
“CCTV is the truth,” Vitalis said.
Although the committee said the KDF “never participated in looting”, local press have criticized what until now has been considered one of Kenya’s most professional institutions.
Many Kenyans, used to scandals and cover ups by a corrupt political elite, doubt they will find out exactly what happened during the siege.
“The CCTV footage made me lose faith in KDF, who we all strongly supported after they crushed al Shabaab in Somalia,” said one Nairobi-based doctor who did not want to be identified. “Now there is some sort of a cover up taking place.”
The September 21 attack - the worst on Kenyan soil since al Qaeda bombed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing more than 200 people - initially united Kenya’s multi-ethnic community and sparked an outpouring of support for the military.
But support for security services evaporated as shop owners returned to the mall to find their stores ransacked, with many reporting phones, expensive Swiss watches and designer suits stolen. Cash from tills was also missing, traders said.
“It was an injustice. These are people that we are looking up to for security and they let us down,” said Anne Njiru, a teacher.
Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Anthony Barker