Part6: Nairobi Mall Killings: There were no hostages – KDF soldier
[CAPTION] The rear column of the massive arsenal of arms that KDF ranged for a number of six or 25 attackers at Nairobi’s Westgate mall on Monday September 23.
The exhausted commando of the Kenya Defence Force (KDF) cast another gloomy look at the billowing smoke from Nairobi shopping mall on the third day of a shootout that started on September 21.
Armed men stormed Westgate mall on a Saturday at noon and commenced a horrifying killing spree that left close to 100 civilians dead or unaccounted.
“No, there are no hostages inside that we can see … only bodies; very many bodies, we are yet to control the situation,” the KDF fighter speaking had just retreated from his sniper position across the mall tomb awaiting another wave of soldiers to take over a presumably long vigil.
Thick smoke was bellowing from the doomed structure, the progress of the smoke hanging still in the Monday afternoon sun like a picture frozen on a frame.
“We could see them (attackers) this morning moving freely, even majestically walking to the windows and looking at our positions. Sometimes they taunted us by displaying dead bodies of KDF (soldiers) –whenever they see that useless big (police) helicopter circling above.
“But now we see nothing since we bombed them this morning.”
Writer: “But the government said that the smoke was due to a mattress fire started by the terrorists.”
Soldier: “I don’t know about mattresses. We bombed the back of the building so that we can gain access into the mall and at the same time shower some natural light inside because the building is dark and they (attackers) have switched off all the lights.”
The attackers had flooded the floors with water as a way of alerting them to any counter-attack.
Dead victims with severed hands and organs were lying prominently for anybody able to break through the police and military siege and have a peek inside cavernous horror.
The first KDF soldiers who explored the Westgate tomb after the lengthy changeover from the advance GSU team were shocked to find victims had been tortured to death, even dead children stashed in ice cream fridges and others hanging on meat hooks.
“There were no hostages. Just people left hiding who came out (Sunday night and Monday morning) when they saw us. But we never encountered an armed or a group of terrorists holding an individual or group of people at weapon level in exchange for any demands,” the soldier said.
“We never snatched a terrified victim from the hand of a terrorist. Nothing like that. Just releasing hidden people and trying to take full control of the mall.”
“By end of Monday daytime there was nobody left over to rescue and because of our disadvantage, the only way in was through bombing the back of the building.”
Westgate shopping mall was impregnable from where the Recce unit had retreated.
Among the things the snipers and surveillance experts could see was the elevator door at the ground floor.
“They kept piling bodies of (KDF) soldiers there that they are bringing from upstairs,” lamented the fighter.
Horrifically, the pile steadily increased as the attackers displayed bodies of soldiers whom the public had watched jumping into the mall from the roof.
While the KDF soldiers risk life and limb over meager salaries, the assailants are paid handsomely for their gruesome acts. According to Garissa County Commissioner Maalim Mohamed in a December 2012 intercepted Al-Shabaab communication, the organisation pays US$ 8,000 per KDF soldier killed.
“They have been paid so well they are willing to die,” the soldier continues. “I have been sent here to die. All I have is my salary. I still owe a loan of 200,000 shillings (US$2,300). If I die here today what will happen? They will ship my body in a casket … what about my family? My children? Al-Shabab is offering 1 million (US$8,000) for my body.
“What for?” he asked himself again looking at the unchanging pattern of smoke. From television boxes and onlookers, the smoldering fired appeared like a picture frozen on a frame even as the minutes etched on endlessly with an anxious public desperate for a speedy end to the ordeal of those said to be still held “hostage” inside.
The soldier’s statement that Monday afternoon was in stark contradiction with that from the Kenyan government consisting of: Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo, KDF Chief Julius Karangi and Joseph ole Lenku of the Interior Ministry.
The government told the public there were still several terrorists holding hostages as a bargaining chip for the removal of KDF soldiers from Somali soil. The public was told that a multi-national terror force numbering 25, led by the “White Widow” Samantha Lefthwaithe, Americans, British among others, were holding hostages in the mall.
Dusk and darkness was settling fast Monday evening. This was disquieting to the KDF paratrooper unit that had taken over from the special police force Recce unit on Saturday after the operational commander Martin Munene had been felled by “friendly fire” from KDF guns.
The siege on Westgate was not announced as over Monday afternoon despite the fact KDF soldiers said there were no hostages remaining nor any terrorists sighted. The siege could have, ostensibly, finished even earlier on Saturday afternoon, the day of the attack, if the special police unit were allowed to complete their mission.
But there was a conflict of interest.
Deputy President William Ruto was at The Hague facing crimes against humanity at the International Criminals Court (ICC), and he was on the verge of being excused from trial on Monday to come participate in his duties at the security command.
Despite the fact that the office of the Deputy President has no functions in national security organs, neither had the Commander-in-Chief, President Uhuru Kenyatta, communicated formally (it is not known if informally either) for his deputy to come assist in a matter. Only the Commander-in-Chief, President Kenyatta with consultation with the National Security Council can launch a KDF mission after advice from the Security Council.
“I think the announcement is being withheld until Ruto reaches here,” the KDF fighter said, who lamented he was fed up by incoherent political decisions that have lately placed at stake the integrity of the much-admired Kenyan military.
Ruto did make a triumphant entry at the burnt out arrivals hall of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport later as night embraced the city, with live media coverage and bold, confident words on the security operations. Within hours upon his arrival, tweets of victory started emanating from the now bombed out death trap that was once an up market mall.
The public was informed, that, without Ruto leaving the ICC and coming to the aid of his commander in chief, the crisis would have lasted longer.
But the KDF top command rejected the early Monday night announcement of victory. There was still one objective that required time until daylight, now that the mall was in dark and smoke.
The war-chest had to be filled. Casinos and banks reported safes broken into and cash stolen. So was jewellery and pastries.
Meanwhile at the UN General Assembly, a president’s representative was linking the Westgate Mall attack with the ICC.
In the General Assembly minutes, Laurent Kavakure, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Burundi said:
“Terrorism has become, in various forms, a source of daily concerns”.
Burundi firmly condemned the heinous attack that had taken place in Kenya and supported the global anti-terrorism strategy adopted in 2006. Concluding, he expressed its hope for a review of the functioning of the International Criminal Court, as well as of the Rome Statute.
Next: Ruto, Police, Intelligence, KDF, US, ICC links