Part 2 of Westgate Mall Siege Forensic: What Went Wrong – How Quick Rescue Was Botched


Argwings Odera

“The three cars did not just drive out of here … they were flung out of the gate onto Kiambu road.”

The narrator is a witness who saw the beginning of a failed attempt to secure Nairobi Westgate Mall from the hands of attackers on an indiscriminate killing spree of anything that moved especially, white faces, around noon on September 21.

The siege ended in a bombed out rubble where both sides celebrated objective victory – Al-Shabab on one side and the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, on the other. Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph ole Lenku reeled out as “67”, the number killed in the four-day fighting, three floors of the mall collapsed and reduced into rubble by a fire both sides accuse each other of lighting.

Intelligence failure, corruption, lack of a clear command from the top, in this case the Commander-in-Chief Uhuru Kenyatta, and greed have been blamed for the gory occurrence before and after the siege of the up market mall frequented by the touristic faces of Kenya.

Unlike the cantankerous Gikomba flea market on the sewer side of the city, Westgate from its leafy-suburbs location offered a sense of serenity in the middle of a shopping crowd that would profusely apologise to a total stranger because the lace on the stranger’s boots had come untied.

This beautiful façade had been planned to turn ugly, forever in memory, that lovely Saturday morning.

Less than 10 kilometres away a police company of Special Forces, The General Service Unit (GSU) Recce squad led by celebrated marksman Martin Munene had just been seen shooting out of a pub in Kiambu road for a fight they were well trained for – combat with terrorists.

Upon arrival at Westgate Mall, Munene’s worst fears were confirmed.

The police patrol unit, along with some vigilantes who arrived first at the scene earlier had done the opposite of what they were supposed to do. They had cordoned off the area keeping victims and terrorist together. It was a knee-jerk reaction aimed at protecting shopping property from looters.

Munene assumed command of the situation. He recognized what he saw for what it was – far from a robbery.

His immediate orders was for everybody who could leave to be removed from the building regardless of whether or not they had paid for their meals, shopping or any other unsettled bills and transactions. Immediately people started streaming out with hands up upon Munene’s arrival.

Details of the work he did and his heroism are many.

The most enduring image took place was when he ordered a fat-looking uniformed policeman near him to “swim” out into the field of fire on the ground floor of the mall where the attackers still commanded control and reach a mother and two children whom the team was unsure were still alive.

Upon confirming the trio was alive, Munene can be overheard shouting and barking commands in Kiswahili to the policeman: “Simama (Stand upright)”.

“Munene did not want to expose the family yet. So he ordered the policeman to stand upright in case Al-Shabab (attackers) were holding fire, and with their intention which was known, they would automatically mow down the policeman and the Recce would know how to respond immediately,” says an individual who was inside and privy of the command.

The policeman survived, Munene ordered him to evacuate the family, all this was going on as gunshots rang and people ran helter-skelter. There is a picture of a policeman in camouflage running along with other scared shoppers, the girl Munene had rescued in hand.

Witnesses saw Munene and his team jump upon the spot where the three had just been removed. The Recce members moved forward but were repulsed with a fusillade of shots.

“They dropped (killed) three Al-Shabab(attackers)  at this (ground floor) point,” recalls another witness.

The spot where the three was saved was a firing blind spot from the attackers’ position. Here Munene set up command point where they could reload – after all they were well armed for a fight they had waited for a long time.

“Munene wanted to arrest an estimated three that he had cornered but still lacked the capacity to make touching distance,” recalls more witnesses at the scene.

It is said he was confident he was going to arrest without killing them – if only he could keep them away from panya (tunnel) routes, which he managed to do by pinning them to the other far side of the supermarket cold room.

The Recce was not a stumbling team. They had done countless practice runs inside the mall in case of an attack just like the one they were faced with. Previously, they had posed as widow cleaners to get an inside view of the mall, they had posed as vermin removal experts to explore unlikely routes into and inside the mall. They knew of the human sized tunnel with huge gas tanks underneath; the same tunnel attackers were reported to have escaped through; they knew the vaults, in comparison it can be said the Recce squad was playing a fatal league on home ground.

After all, the Inspector-General  of Police Kimaiyo had tweeted that police were in full charge of operational command and spoke confidently of a likely quick combat resolution based on feedback from Munene’s command, which he relayed directly to the Commander-in-Chief, President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Then something happened to Munene while he had the three terrorists pinned.

His AK-47 that he was swapping with his big M16 and other weapons exploded in his hands. Blood and pieces of the AK scattered on the marble floor, where he had just rescued the three, his helmet spun like a begging bowl.

The pinned-down attackers grabbed the opportunity to surge forward, take over Munene’s fallen position (it was a very strategic one), previously hosting three lucky family members. They let off a mighty burst of volley at the upper floors and the receiving force, Recce, Police, KDF Green Berets, Red Cross, vigilantes and all fled.

Three days later, the attackers were tweeting images of their numbers patrolling the very ground that Munene briefly held.

“It is them … it is them … we killed our own man …” a witness voice trails in anger.

Writer: Who is them?

Angry witness:  KDF (Kenya Defence Force) they killed our own man!

Munene has been widely reported to have been a police casualty of “friendly” fire in the Westgate siege, even though top government organs are yet to acknowledge his death in the operation, insisting that only the KDF lost six members.

More to Follow: Next: Failure – The role of the Commander-in-Chief in the Westgate Siege

About Argwings

Freelance Investigative Journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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