First Posted: 10/1/2013
NAIROBI, Kenya — The sour odor of rotting food overwhelms the senses. Shattered glass crunches underfoot. And evidence of looting is ever-present, including in Westgate Mall’s chandelier-filled casino.
Shop owners on Tuesday boarded up stores and removed merchandise even as Kenyan, U.S. and European investigators moved through the mall’s rubble in search of answers to the four-day terrorist attack. A soldier inside said that two bodies had been found Tuesday, one likely a soldier. The other was burned so badly it was too difficult to say, he said.
Those cleaning up their shops wondered: Can the mall reopen? If so, when?
A mall official told The Associated Press that such questions won’t be answered until the Kenyan government gives back control of the mall to its owners, a legal hold-up that might take months to resolve as the forensic investigation to find bodies and reconstruct events continues.
An Associated Press reporter on Tuesday spent about two hours inside Westgate, the site of a terrorist siege that killed at least 67 people. Kenya’s government says five attackers are dead — perhaps under the mall’s rubble — but officials acknowledge that some of the attackers might have changed clothes and walked out with fleeing, frightened shoppers.
The mall walk-through showed vast destruction where the mall caught fire and where it collapsed, but also SWAT-like tactics during the rush to rescue those inside when the grenades and bullets began flying. Many workers wore masks to cut the stench. Surgical gloves littered the floor, and foreign and Kenyan investigators, some wearing white moon suits, worked through the rubble.
AP also saw evidence of looting, thefts that many in the mall blame on Kenyan security forces: Cash registers yanked open and the money taken, jewels from display cases gone. Dozens of empty beer bottles — apparently enjoyed by security forces — prompted one restaurant employee to ask: “How do you expect them to kill someone if they are totally drunk?” and then wonder if maybe it was a post-siege celebration.
Carrying flashlights through the dark gaming area, Millionaires casino management walked carefully into the back room, where they found their main safe with several holes and gouges from bullets on it. The door remained closed, and those trying to open it would have been disappointed if they had succeeded. It was empty.
Al-Shabab says it attacked the mall to force Kenya to withdraw its troops from Somalia. The insurgent group once controlled much of the Horn of Africa nation and most of the capital, Mogadishu, but has since been pushed back by African Union forces to the country’s south.