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Security forces suspected of looting at Westgate

01 October 2013, 09:04

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

For the second time in two months, Kenyan security forces that moved in to control an emergency are being accused of robbing the very property they were supposed to protect. First the troops were accused of looting during a huge fire in August at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

Now shop owners at Westgate Mall are returning to their stores after last week's devastating terrorist attack to find displays ransacked and valuables stolen.

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

Shopkeepers spent Monday carting merchandise and other valuables out of their stores and restaurants to prevent any more thefts. No one can say for sure who is responsible, but security forces are strongly suspected.

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

Since then, 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 the government.

Employees of a book shop on the mall's second floor returned to find registers yanked open and 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 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 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 store that sells high-end Swiss watches.

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

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

It is ironic, said the management team of one Westgate business, that store owners must now make reports of stolen goods to the same security forces suspected of doing the thieving.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku confirmed the reports of theft Sunday in a news conference. The majority of the responders to the terrorist attack came from the military. A military spokesman did not 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 recover the dead during the first day, said he carried out the body of Aleem Jamal.

Shah frowned at the memory and said he saw a 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.

The attack killed at least 67 people. The mall now has a gaping three-story hole in it from the siege.

Almost a week after the attack ended, more than three dozen people remain unaccounted for, the head of the Kenyan Red Cross said Monday.

The government contends there are no remaining missing people.

"The only way to verify this is when the government declares the Westgate Mall 100 percent cleared. Then we can resolve it," Red Cross head Abbas Gullet said.

A morgue worker told AP on Monday that six body parts have been found in the rubble. The worker, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about information not yet released, said it was not clear if the parts came from one or multiple bodies.

Five terrorists are believed to be under the rubble but no dead hostages, Lenku said Sunday. Government officials have said 10 to 15 terrorists attacked the mall. Lenku said some attackers might have escaped.

"We do not rule out the possibility that when we were evacuating people in the first stages of the operation, it is possible some could have slipped out," he said.

FBI agents, along with investigators from Britain, Canada and Germany, are participating in the investigation into the attack and are aiding Kenyan forensic experts. Results are not expected until later this week at the earliest.

Authorities have used anti-terrorism laws to detain a total of 12 people in connection with the attack, including one on Sunday. Three have been set free, including a British man with a bruised face who was reportedly arrested last week as he tried to board a flight from Nairobi to Turkey while acting suspiciously, the British Foreign Office confirmed Monday.

Ndung'u Githinji, chairman of parliament's foreign relations committee, said officials will "rethink" Kenya's hospitality in supporting refugee camps, a reference to Dadaab, a refugee camp near Somalia filled with more than 400,000 Somalis. Security officials say some elements in the camp support and facilitate terror attacks.

- AP


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