Westgate attack: 5 remaining questions

2013-09-26 17:28

Five days after Islamist gunmen attacked the Westgate mall in Nairobi and hunkered down for a siege that ended three days later, the call for answers is growing.

Here are some of the main questions that remain after the worst attack to hit Kenya in 15 years:

How many people were killed in the attack?

The official death toll, provided by President Uhuru Kenyatta, has stood at 67 – 61 civilians and six members of the security forces – for two days.

Officials, witnesses and rescuers had said before the end of the siege on Tuesday that they expected the tally to rise further as teams searched the mall wreckage.

As well as Kenyans, the dead include foreigners from Britain, Canada, China, France, the Netherlands, India, South Africa and South Korea.

Where are the people reported missing?

The Kenyan Red Cross has said since Tuesday that 61 people have been reported missing, implying there were still a number of bodies buried under the rubble of the Westgate mall, a large part of which collapsed in the final moments of the siege.

Yet Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku created some confusion when he declared Wednesday that an “insignificant” number of victims were believed to remain buried under the rubble.

Who was held hostage and where are they now?

Officials confirmed that the attackers took several civilians hostage to hold the siege inside the mall and said they were freed in the joint security effort to end the crisis. But the circumstances of that episode remain unclear.

“If, as was said, hostages were released, where are they now?” reads one tweet echoed by many others that have circulated on social media.

Who are the attackers?

The attack was claimed by al-Shabaab, a Somali group that has been battling the pro-Western government there for years and is allied to al-Qaeda. It has not, however, disclosed the composition and strength of the commando.

The Kenyan government has said it would divulge the attackers’ identities in due time and needed to carry out fingerprinting, DNA testing and further forensic investigation. Information on the five attackers killed has not yet been released.

Some media outlets have suggested that among the attackers was Britain’s Samantha Lewthwaite – best known as the White Widow – who was already wanted over her alleged involvement in other terror plots.

Lenku said Kenya’s security services were treating the rumour as just that.

Westgate attack: Who is the ‘White Widow’?

Was security adequate at the mall?

The upscale Westgate Shopping Mall opened in 2007 and quickly became a symbol of new prosperity for Kenya’s elite.

It was also part Israeli-owned and always teeming with foreigners, including tourists and staff from the huge UN complex which lies a few minutes down the road.

It had long been considered a prime potential target for al-Shabaab, which has repeatedly warned it would retaliate for Kenya’s invasion of southern Somalia two years ago.

Yet on the day of the attack, as was the case most of the time, no more than cursory checks were carried out on people and vehicles entering the four-level shopping centre and many have argued since Saturday’s raid that security was too lax.

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