Kenyan court convicts 2 in only prosecution into deadly Westgate mall attack

A Kenyan court on Wednesday found two men guilty for supporting the 2013 attack on Nairobi’s upscale WestgateĀ mall that left 67 people dead.

Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi acquitted a third suspect in the only prosecution Kenya has mounted so far over the attack. The men had been detained since days after the deadly incident.

The attack by four gunmen with the Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabaab was the first large-scale assault in Kenya’s capital. Al-Shabaab had vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops in 2011 to fight the group in Somalia.

The magistrate said although there is no specific evidence that the two men gave material support to the attackers, constant communication with the gunmen “was giving support to their endeavours.”

“The pattern of their communication betrays the fact that they may have been just friends with the attackers,” Andayi said while reading the judgment that took three hours.

According to a police reconstruction, the gunmen split into two groups. One went through the mall’s main entrance, and another went through the vehicle entrance, tossing grenades and spraying bullets.

Women crawl as armed policemen search for gunmen during an attack at Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi in this September 2013 file photo. The Somali militant group al-Shabaab was responsible for the attack that killed 67 people. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

Kenya’s police and army were widely criticized for their response to the attack. It took at least two hours before the police tactical team went into the mall, leaving security guards and volunteers to fend for those inside.

Lack of co-ordination between the military and the police led to friendly fire in which one police officer was killed. The attackers died of smoke inhalation after the army allegedly blew up a part of the mall where they were hiding.

The three men put on trial “are not in any way the masterminds. Not even the attackers. It’s believed that the attackers escaped, and masterminds are still unknown. These three must have been fringe players, if at all,” said Otsieno Namwaya, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

But for survivors of the attack like security guard David Odhiambo, the two men convicted Wednesday should be hanged. He was shot in the head, injuries that cost him his job.

“They should be killed,” he said from a Nairobi hospital where he went for tests this week. He said hardly a month goes by without a visit to the hospital.

Some analysts say lessons still unlearned by Kenya in the attack will continue to provide opportunities for al-Shabaab to exploit.

“The many command and overt operational failures of [the government] on that Saturday caused a ‘siege’ to develop that lasted nearly four days,” said former U.S. Marine and security analyst Andrew Franklin.

That “was followed up by official silence that has lasted to date,” with no formal report made publicly available, he said.

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