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Africa

Tough questions for Kenyan authorities after mall siege

© AFP

Video by Catherine NORRIS TRENT

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2013-09-27

The deadly siege at the Westgate shopping mall may have ended, but for families of the missing seeking information and for ordinary Kenyans seeking answers, difficult questions remain.

On Tuesday night, as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the end of the Nairobi mall siege, crowds gathered around TV screens at bars, restaurants and shopping centres across the Kenyan capital as a distraught nation desperately sought closure on a harrowing four-day ordeal.

The next day, at the start of a three-day mourning period, crowds flocked to a blood donation drive at Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi as residents responded to the Westgate tragedy in an overwhelming display of solidarity and voluntarism.

Lying on a reclining chair under a pristine white park tent, her arm strapped to a tube, Yvonne Ndinda said she was impressed by Kenyatta's speech and security operation at the Westgate mall.

While giving bloody at a hospital, Yvonne Ndinda, 30, told FRANCE 24 that she is "very proud" of the way Kenyan security forces responded to the Westgate mall attack.

"The speech by President Kenyatta was very moving, it was so reassuring," said Ndinda, a 30-year-old human resources officer on a lunch break. "We are also proud of our security forces. They're our heroes. All my friends think they handled the situation as best they could."

But slowly, as the day wore on, the questions piled up and the figures failed to tally, there was a mounting sense of exasperation among many Kenyans.

By early evening, an open document of questions by Kenyan citizens posted on social media sites closed down with 85 questions - although the comments kept rolling in.

"How many people are still unaccounted for?" was the first question, followed by, "How many terrorists were involved in the attack? Are they all accounted for?"

From "several" to "insignificant number" of bodies

In his Tuesday night speech, Kenyatta said 61 civilians and six members of the security forces died in the course of the 80-hour siege. He also added that five attackers had been killed and there were 11 suspects in custody.

Kenyatta provided no details about whether the 11 suspects were arrested at the mall or if they were suspected accomplices detained from across the city -- or country.

The Kenyan president also added that three floors of the burnt out shopping mall had collapsed and there were "several bodies" in the rubble -- an indication that the death toll was expected to rise.

The Kenya Red Cross on Wednesday said 71 people were missing in the attack.

But at a press briefing near the Westgate mall on Wednesday afternoon, Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said "an insignificant" number of bodies were left in the rubble, playing down fears that the bodies of 71 people listed as missing may still be inside the sealed-off mall.

Where have all the attackers gone?

Earlier this week, Kenyan officials said there were about a dozen militants who stormed the mall on Saturday afternoon.

But with only five officially listed as dead, there were questions about the remaining attackers -- and fears that some of them may have escaped with the hundreds of shoppers fleeing Westgate on Saturday.

Both Kenyatta and Lenku have failed to provide the nationalities of the militants amid rumours that a British woman, Samantha Lewthwaite -- dubbed "the white widow" -- may have been among the attackers.

The Somali Islamist group al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The interior minister also revealed that the investigation into the siege had been joined by experts from the US, UK, Germany, Canada and Interpol.

"It is an elaborate process. Among the things that are going on now are fingerprinting, DNA identification (and) ballistic examinations," said Lenku, adding that the evidence collection would take at least a week.

But even as Lenku appealed for patience while the investigation proceeded, the questions kept mounting -- including the critical issue of hostages.

Where are the hostages?

For four days, as a tense nation waited for the end of the siege, Kenyan officials revealed that the militants were holding an unknown number of hostages, complicating the security operation.

But in his Tuesday night speech, Kenyatta made no mention of the hostages -- an ominous omission for the families of the missing.

‘We cannot be conquered,’ Kenyatta says

Officials from hospitals that treated the wounded said there were no admissions of Westgate patients after Sunday morning.

At the MP Shah Hospital not far from Westgate, hospital chairman Manoj Shah said the facility treated "more than 100 patients, many with wounds from shrapnel, bullets and hand grenades". According to Shah, only two patients were admitted early Sunday, the rest arrived on Saturday -- the day the attack started.

If there were hostages released between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night, apparently none of them made it to city hospitals, which begs the pertinent question: where are the hostages?

The hostage issue has been plaguing many Kenyans. "If the delay in using brute force to overcome the gunmen by Sunday morning was because there were hostages whose lives the authorities wanted to save, how many hostages have been saved since Sunday morning?" asked a participant in the open document circulating on social media sites.

And then, the issue of intelligence failures

If Kenyans are scrambling to get basic casualty figures, few expect to get an honest official assessment of the intelligence failures that led to a massive and well-prepared attack by a terrorist group that should be well-known to the Kenyan intelligence services.

Kenyans flocked to Nairobi's Uhuru Park on Wednesday to donate blood for the victims of the Westgate mall attack. © Photo credit: Leela Jacinto

US news organisations have cited unnamed US security officials suggesting that the militants may have hired a space or a store in the mall to stow some of the vast quantities of arsenal ahead of Saturday's attack.

Kenyan officials however have maintained that until and unless the forensic audit or any other investigation proves the report, they will be treating it as rumour.

Until the audits and analysis and investigations are completed, Kenyans will just have to wait for these answers. But then that's another question. "Will the findings be made public after the investigations?" asked one Kenyan citizen in the open document. The answer is yet to come.

Date created : 2013-09-26

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