Kenya's Westgate siege: 'Militants hired shop to hide arms'

The BBC's Karen Allen: How siege unfolded

The militants who led the attack on a Kenyan mall hired a shop there in the weeks leading up to the siege, senior security sources have told the BBC.

This gave them access to service lifts at Westgate enabling them to stockpile weapons and ammunition.

Having positioned weapons they were able to rearm quickly and repel the security forces.

Sixty-seven people are known to have died in the four-day siege. Kenya's Red Cross says 61 others are still missing.

Forensic experts are still combing the complex, looking for bodies and clues.

Analysis

"Terrorism is an exploitation of openings" was the way Ndung'u Gethenji, chair of Kenya's parliamentary defence committee, described to me the attack in Nairobi. And the gunmen at the Westgate siege exploited those openings to the full to mount a "spectacular" that has wounded Kenya - and left its people shaken.

That extremist gunmen could secure a base within the mall in the weeks leading up to the attack and position weapons is in itself astonishing. But for many Kenyans, audacious as it is, it will come as little surprise when bribery remains the currency of everyday life.

A few "bob" - (Kenya shillings) to "look the other way" is not unusual here, despite the best efforts of many brave Kenyans to rein the problem in. Porous borders and a ready supply of weapons have long fuelled the threat of violence in Kenya - an AK-47 costs just $450 (£280) today if you know the right people.

Many Kenyans now hope the legacy of Westgate will be tougher action to tackle dodgy deals. The human cost of not doing so has already been laid bare.

The Somali Islamist group al-Shabab, which is part of al-Qaeda, says it was behind the attack and the following siege at the upmarket mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Kenya is in its third day of official mourning for both the civilian and military victims of the attack.

Fake IDs?

The BBC investigation has revealed how the Westgate gunmen were able to plan and carry out the siege, and how security breaches allegedly fuelled by corruption made it an attack waiting to happen.

To rent a shop, the militants would have needed fake IDs supplied by corrupt government officials.

The BBC has also confirmed more details about how they executed their attack.

Two vehicles dropped the Islamist extremists off outside before they forced their way into the mall, sources say.

They are also believed to have set up a base using a ventilation shaft as a hiding place, on the first floor.

Security sources have also confirmed a change of tack by the militants late on Saturday.

They rolled out heavy calibre machine-guns, exploiting the moment when control of the security operation switched from the police to the military.

There are reports that this switchover was fraught with confusion.

Remains of cars and other debris can be seen of the parking lot outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya - 26 September 2013 New photos revealing some of the damage at the Westgate shopping centre have been released.
The remains of cars and other debris can be seen in a general view photographed from the rooftop, of the parking lot outside the Westgate Mall on 26 September 2013 They show how parts of the rooftop car park have collapsed down on to what is believed to be the supermarket area.
Westgate jewellery shop The manager of a jewellery shop allowed back into Westgate showed the BBC photos she took, showing that the store had been looted.
A man sits with the service leaflet during the funeral of Mbugua Mwangi and his fiancee Rosemary Wahito, in Nairobi, Kenya, Friday 27 September 2013 President Uhuru Kenyatta declared three days of official mourning this week. The funeral of his nephew and his nephew's fiancee took place in Nairobi on Friday.
Family members light the funeral pyre of Mitul Shah, of Bidco Group of Kenya, who was shot dead in the attack on the Westgate Mall, at the Hindu Crematorium in Nairobi, Kenya 26 Thursday September 2013 Among the funerals held on Thursday was that of Mitul Shah at the Hindu Crematorium. A marketing executive, his firm was reportedly sponsoring the children's cooking competition taking place in the car park.

The heads of the various security agencies have been summoned to appear before the parliamentary defence committee on Monday, amid rising concern over the authorities' preparedness for such an attack.

The committee's chairman, Ndung'u Gethenji, told the BBC that "people need to know the exact lapses in the security system that possibly allowed this event to take place".

He also said they needed to understand "the anatomy of the entire rescue operation" amid the allegations of confusion over who was in charge.

It is still not clear how many militants took part in the attack or their nationalities.

But senior sources within al-Shabab, which has repeatedly threatened attacks on Kenyan soil if Nairobi did not pull its troops out of Somalia, told the BBC by phone that they would not release the attackers' names.

'Jewellery looted'

Irene Anyango: "It's not the mall you used to see"

A senior government official told the Associated Press news agency that the army had caused the collapse of a section of the mall on Monday.

Start Quote

Abdul Haji crouches with gun

Some of them were lying down as if they were dead. They would hear us calling out to help them, but they wouldn't move. I think they were so petrified they couldn't get up - we had to urge people to open the doors to the shops.”

End Quote

The official, who did not want to be named, said post-mortem examinations would show whether this had killed the hostages or whether they had already been murdered.

Correspondents say there have been reports that the military had blown out a supporting column to bring the siege to an end - a controversial decision which, if confirmed, would raise the possibility that hostages' lives were seen as expendable.

Irene Anyango, manager of a Westgate jewellery shop, is one of the few people who has been allowed into the mall following the end of the siege.

"It was a nightmare… and the shop was a totally different place," she told the BBC.

Ms Anyango said 90% of the jewellery was missing from the shop, which is now flooded.

"As far as we know, for the last couple of days they were intact - we don't understand what's happening but they're not there," she said.

Many people not only face the trauma of losing family and colleagues but also the possibility of losing their jobs, she added.

On Friday morning, President Uhuru Kenyatta attended the funeral of his nephew and his nephew's fiancee at a church service Nairobi, where he addressed the congregation.

Mbugua Mwangi and Rosemary Wahito were among those killed in the mall on Saturday.

About 4,000 Kenyan troops have been sent to Somalia to help pro-government forces battle al-Shabab.

The group is banned as a terrorist group by both the US and the UK and is believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters.

Its members are fighting to create an Islamic state in Somalia.

Graphic

Are you affected? You can share your experience using the form below.

If you are happy to be contacted by a BBC journalist please leave a telephone number that we can contact you on. In some cases a selection of your comments will be published, displaying your name as you provide it and location, unless you state otherwise. Your contact details will never be published. When sending us pictures, video or eyewitness accounts at no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws. Please ensure you have read the terms and conditions.

Terms and conditions

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Africa stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.