Thievery Comes After Carnage at Kenya Mall

Jeffrey Gettleman et al., New York Times, October 4, 2013

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.

The looting of the Westgate mall, the scene of a siege in which scores of people were killed last month, appeared to have the scope and organization of a large-scale military operation, and many Kenyans are asking if that is what it was.

From the first hours after Islamist militants burst into the mall on Sept. 21, killing men, women and children, until a week later when shopkeepers were let back in to sweep up the broken glass, very few people were allowed inside the mall except the Kenyan security forces, mainly the army.

More and more Kenyans believe that 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 that shooters were still in the building when they were actually dead, to give themselves extra time to steal.

Witnesses said that the most they saw militants loot was a couple of cans of soda, and shopkeepers cited no instances of panicked shoppers helping themselves to merchandise as they ran for their lives, leading to the widespread conclusion that the security forces must have been involved.

Kenyans are accustomed to corruption—their country is consistently rated as one of the most corrupt in the world—but the evidence of looting amid a national tragedy has been too much for many to take.


President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced an official inquiry into the security services’ response, which has been roundly criticized as slow and bungled. But official inquiries often do not amount to much, many Kenyans say. The other night on a Kenyan news broadcast, a camera panned across a shelf of previous inquiries thick, bound tomes that went nowhere.

In a question put to viewers, 77 percent said they believed the Kenyan Army was responsible for the plundering of Westgate.

“Four-day siege or four-day shopping spree?” said one Western official working in Kenya.


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