Oct 22, 2013

    Kenyan troops go from hero to zero

    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", along with the words "caught on camera".

    Gunmen from the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab group massacred at least 67 people when they raided the upmarket Westgate mall, hurling grenades and spraying bullets at shoppers in retaliation against Kenya sending troops to Somalia.

    Closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage, distributed by Reuters TV over the weekend, shows soldiers taking goods that appear to be mobile-phone boxes from a phone store, while others are in a mobile money-transfer shop.

    A couple of metres from the shop, a pool of blood marks 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 in the mall.

    Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir said on Sunday that a news conference, organised for tomorrow, would deal with looting allegations arising from the latest CCTV footage to emerge.

    Diplomats and Kenyan officials 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 that the findings of 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," the student said.

    Although the committee said the KDF "never participated in looting", the local press criticised what has - until now - 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.