NAIROBI, Kenya – Two men were found guilty on Wednesday of aiding Al-Shabaab attackers during the siege of the Westgate shopping mall in 2013, seven years after undergoing a hectic trial, which becomes one of the first terror-related convictions in Kenya, which often has been targeted by Somalia-based militants.
The 2013 attack was the first major attack on Kenyan soil since 1998, when the U.S. embassy in Nairobi was bombed by al-Qaeda, leaving more than 200 people dead. It was also the first major attack by militant Al-Shabaab, who had sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda, on Kenyan territory.
At least 67 people were declared dead in the four-day siege of Kenya’s capital Nairobi before authorities declared the militants dead. Kenya used the Kenya Defense Forces [KDF] and the elite Recce team to eliminate the militants who unknowingly captured the country’s largest security agencies.
Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hussein Hassan Mustafah were found guilty of charges, including conspiracy to commit terrorism and aid to the Qaida-linked Shabab terrorist group. A third man, Lebanon Abdullah Omar, was acquitted of all charges. A fourth, Adan Dheq, was released last year due to lack of evidence.
The attack also left 175 people critically injured and was later continued with a series of attacks within Kenya by Al-Shabaab, particularly in Mandera, where quarry workers and teachers were slaughtered, not forgetting the infamous Garissa University raid.
Chief Justice Francis Andayi of the Milimani courts in Nairobi handed down the verdict, which was delayed several times. A court translator handed down the verdict, which took four hours to read, in Somali to the accused, who are all ethnic Somalis.
“Their defense and denial that they had any connection with the act committed by the attackers is without substance and I reject that,” the boss said. “They appeared with the attackers.”
Westgate Mall was a symbol of Kenya’s growing middle class, a place where wealthy couples and families shopped, ate and caught the latest Hollywood and Bollywood movies.
But it became a terrorist scene on a Saturday afternoon in 2013 when it was stormed by militants who randomly shot at the crowds inside and detonated grenades and sent frightened people fleeing after the exits. The shiny floors of the mall were smeared with blood and scattered with lifeless bodies. Witnesses later said the attackers had selected non-Muslims for killing.
During a four-day siege to clear the militants, Kenyan authorities were criticized for an ineffective and incoherent response, with police and military forces deployed in the mall even shooting at each other. Soldiers were caught on camera and stole goods from stores in the destroyed mall. Security officers also fired a rocket, leading to the collapse of entire floors of the five-story building including the roof terrace.
The conviction comes at a time when Kenya is still dealing with terrorism, where Mandera, Garissa, Wajir and Lamu are hardest hit. Recently, President Uhuru Kenyatta denied knowledge of the US-African Command, which was planning to carry out air strikes in the region following a report published by the New York Times.
Instead, Uhuru said the country has made significant progress in the fight against terrorism. The KDF team has been camping in Somalia since 2011 and has liberated many strategic cities, including the port city of Kismayo, which was once Al-Shabaab’s headquarters.