Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 October 2020

Kenya court convicts two for helping mall attackers who killed 67

Extremist gunmen stormed Westgate shopping mall in 2013

A Kenyan court on Wednesday convicted two men for helping Al Qaeda-linked gunmen to storm Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall and kill at least 67 people in 2013.

The attack proved Somali militants could strike at the heart of the capital.

The assault on the upscale mall, a favourite with the growing middle class and foreign workers, came two years after Kenya sent troops into Somalia following kidnappings and raids on Kenyan soil.

A third accused, also charged under a national terrorism act, was acquitted in the trial, which was the only prosecution conducted by Kenya over the assault by Somali Al Shabab militants.

Four gunmen died during the attack in one of the most secure areas of Nairobi, and it has never been proven that there were any who escaped.

The three defendants, all ethnic Somalis of whom two are Kenyan citizens, were accused of assisting the attackers.

The judge said the convicted men "had constant communication with the attackers", the pattern of which "betrays the fact that they may have been just friends".

There was no specific evidence that they had provided material help.

But Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi said he was satisfied "their communication with the attackers was giving support to their endeavours" and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.

At midday on September 21, 2013, four men stormed the Westgate shopping mall, throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately at shoppers and business owners.

A four-day siege ensued, much of it broadcast live on television, during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the attackers and take back the mall.

The attack was claimed by Al Shabab in retaliation for Kenya's military intervention over the border in Somalia, where the group was waging an insurgency against the fragile central government.

Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union mission in Somalia, which in 2011 drove Al Shabab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.

In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly activated Sim cards they used.

Their communications were traced, including calls to the convicted men.

"The prosecution has proved its case against the accused on charges of conspiracy of committing a terrorism act and supporting a terrorist group," Mr Andayi said.

During his judgment, he referred to harrowing testimony from witnesses.

They told of bodies slumped behind the wheels of cars with bullet-shattered windshields, their engines still running, and a man attending a children's cookery event who was shot several times before he crawled under a car and passed out.

The two convicted men will be sentenced on October 22.

Mr Andayi was one of four magistrates who presided over the case over seven years. There was no jury.

The authorities' disastrous response to the Westgate attack deeply damaged Kenya's reputation.

Soldiers and police fired at each other during a chaotic four days and footage emerged of soldiers looting the complex with bodies sprawled on the bloodstained floor.

The trial provided little comfort for the loved ones of victims because it shed very little light on what happened.

Years later, questions such as whether the attackers' forensic remains were ever correctly identified remain unanswered.

No one from the security forces has been held responsible for the pillaging in the mall.

"For as long as the authorities remain reluctant or unwilling to investigate the conduct of the security forces, questions will persist as to whether justice has indeed been served in this case regardless of how the judges decide," Otsieno Namwaya of Human Rights Watch said.

Al Shabab has continued to mount attacks in Kenya, including a 2015 assault on Garissa University that killed 166 people, and a 2019 attack on a Nairobi hotel and office complex that killed 21.

The 2019 attack was the first led by a Kenyan gunman who was not an ethnic Somali, a result of Al Shabab's intensive efforts to recruit more foreigners.

Updated: October 8, 2020 02:51 AM

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