News Africa

Saturday 30 August 2014

Looted: mall where children were massacred

Ben Farmer in Nairobi

Published 01/10/2013 | 05:00

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The ransacked Fone Xpress shop in Westgate mall
A newspaper cutting showing photos of the massacre victims

PICKED clean and smashed up, the Fone Xpress mobile phone shop in Nairobi's Westgate mall is one of dozens of stores traders have returned to find ransacked – but businessmen say the terrorists are not to blame.

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As the first pictures emerged from inside the devastated shopping centre where terrorists killed at least 67, shopkeepers complained that looting Kenyan troops had added to the destruction by ransacking their stores.

Owners have been allowed to return to the centre only to find that if their shops escaped destruction in 80 hours of fighting, they were later apparently stripped bare by the security forces.

Allegations of mass looting by the security forces were adding to growing concerns about how the Kenyan authorities handled the worst terrorist attack on the country in 15 years.

DESTROYED

Large sections of the centre had been destroyed by fire, swamped by water and shattered by heavy gunfire.

Pictures show sections of escalator buckled and twisted by fire and several shops reduced to blackened shells. Three floors of the building also collapsed on top of each other at one end of the centre as the battle against up to 15 al-Shabaab terrorists reached its climax.

Joseph Ole Lenku, the Kenyan interior minister, confirmed that he was investigating instances of looting and promised that the culprits would be punished. But he insisted that most shops were intact.

Olga Levari Ercolano, who owns a cart selling African handicrafts on the first floor and was able to inspect her stock on Sunday, said the shopping centre resembled a war zone.

"There was water everywhere, all the windows have been smashed, all the jewellery shops have been smashed and all the banks have been ransacked," she said. "There were shells and bullet casings all over the floor.

"The looting is unbelievable. Shops with valuable goods have found they have all gone. Computers, mobile phones, jewellery, everything.

"Even the drinks in the cafes have been drunk and the empty bottles lined up."

In the terror of the initial attack, traders fled without their money, returning to find it all missing.

"All this has happened after the fighting," she said. "I can't imagine the terrorists sitting there and drinking beer, or filling their pockets."

David Nderitu (27), who worked at Ashley's salon, said he had returned to find a strong room broken into and cash boxes forced open. "They searched every bag and wallet that had been left behind and they stole everything.

"There were more than 50 shops looted," he said. "Everyone has been complaining that they lost their shops and the soldiers stole everything."

Kenyan MPs investigating alleged security failings leading up to the assault and a botched security response, inspected the charred wreckage.

They also said they would "rethink" Kenya hosting of some half a million Somali refugees, accusing the camps – such as the word's biggest, Dadaab, home to more than 400,000 people – of being a "training ground" for extremists. The Red Cross said the number of people still unaccounted for stood at 39.

The government has said it believed no hostages were left in the building when the siege ended.

Al-Shabaab also dismissed speculation that Samantha Lewthwaite, the British woman known as the White Widow, took part in the massacre. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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