JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- One of the few shops that Kenyan soldiers didn’t loot during last month’s siege by terrorists of a Nairobi shopping mall was a local Bata shoe store, according to closed-circuit video footage.
Kenyan media have reported that soldiers began stealing almost as soon as they arrived on the scene shortly after the attack began, with assailants and some victims still inside.
The looting has outraged many Kenyans and embarrassed the military chiefs, who met Thursday to discuss the scandal.
A jewelry shop in the upscale shopping mall was emptied, with thousands of dollars in precious gems stolen. Security forces looted watch and clothing shops, grabbed cash from tills and ATMs and tried to shoot their way into a casino safe, according to local media reports.
Kenya’s Star newspaper reported that video showed three soldiers in the Nakumatt supermarket at 9.12 p.m. on Sept. 21, the first day of the assault. One held a plastic bag open while another emptied the cash from first one till and then another into it.
The three walked out of the mall carrying the shopping bags stuffed with cash.
Yet another soldier was seen walking out of the supermarket with two full shopping bags, heading toward the basement. Others strolled around the supermarket taking items from the shelves.
The reports of widespread looting follow another high-profile looting case by security and emergency officials on Aug. 7, when Nairobi’s main international airport went up in flames.
The mall looting took place as various security agencies disputed who was in charge at the mall. Lack of communication led to a chaotic response and incidents of security personnel being killed by friendly fire, local media has reported.
According to the Star, the military took control of the mall shortly after 7 p.m. “From 7.08 p.m. until 10.30 p.m., there are no gunshots coming from the mall. The footage shows different soldiers walking in and out with some stopping to chat,” the newspaper reported Thursday.
About 10.30 p.m., video footage shows four attackers holed up in an office, one limping with an injury to his right foot. One of the attackers attends the injured man, another peers out a window, while the fourth stands guard with his gun pointing toward the door. Later, one of the men sees the video camera and points it to the wall.
The Bata shoe store, located on the ground floor, was ignored by the looters, providing one of the few notes of levity in what many see as one of Kenya’s darkest hours. “Bata should be disappointed and concerned,” one Kenyan tweeted.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has ordered an investigation into security lapses after reports that police ignored intelligence warnings of a planned attack.
The Ministry of Defense issued a statement late Thursday after the meeting of military chiefs, saying soldiers were not the only security forces inside the mall, but that the ministry was determined to establish the truth about the accusations of looting.
“Information is rife in the public domain that some of the KDF [Kenya Defense Forces] soldiers behaved unprofessionally during the operation,” the statement said. “The allegation about this unprofessional conduct ... came to us with consternation and we as the Ministry of Defense is [sic] determined to get to the bottom of this.”
The statement called those with evidence of improper behavior to hand it over to the military.
On Thursday, police called on Kenyans with video or photographs of the mall during the attack to send them to authorities.
Officials said no further bodies had been recovered from the mall and the death toll excluding terrorists remained at 67, including 61 civilians and six members of the security forces.
As weeks have worn on, the sense of Kenyan unity that followed the attack has begun to fray, with many questions still unanswered, including how many attackers there were, who they were, how many of them were killed, whether any of them escaped and how many victims may have been buried when three floors of one section of the mall collapsed.
Standard newspaper columnist Jenny Luesby wrote, “I know, and we all know, that the big plan from our government is to make sure we are never told what went on inside Westgate for those last two terrible days, what those last shoppers and workers lived through and why, and even who they were.”