Kenyan soldiers responding to mall attack looted stores, owners say

Shop owners cart of some of their goods from Westgate Mall on Monday in Nairobi. Carl De Souza / AFP - Getty Images

Some store owners at the upscale Kenya shopping mall attacked by terrorists said soldiers sent in to end the four-day siege made off with valuable electronics, jewelry and cash.

On Monday, as shop keepers were allowed back into their stores to catalog damage from the bloody attack that killed 67 people, the interior ministry confirmed that three shores had reported looting. Other store owners said their goods were left untouched.

The Kenyan government said it was taking the allegations seriously, asserting that it had acted to protect the stock at the mall, a shopping center that catered to prosperous Kenyans as well as foreigners. The mall complex sold such items as iPads, Swiss watches and expensive jewelry, Reuters reported.

Store owners and many other Kenyans on Monday focused their anger for the apparent looting at government troops — who made up the bulk of the security forces hunting down the 10-15 gunmen — because they had locked down the complex during the siege, so no on else was allowed to enter.

On Sunday, dramatic pictures of the destroyed interior of the complex started to emerge in the aftermath of the siege that began on Sept. 21.

"The whole place has been done over," Tariq Harunani, an optician who was let into the mall late on Sunday told Reuters. He said dozens of pairs of sunglasses and frames were stolen from his store.

"The watch counters have been cleared, the jewelry shop is empty, there's no jewelry on the necklace stands," Harunani said.

Harunani’s brother Yasser, also interviewed by a Reuters reporter, appeared to assign blame directly on the troops.

"We know who's done it but what can we do? They ransacked it. The military secured the place and in that time the place is emptied,” Yasser Harunani said. "This is Kenya. Let's just face it, what's lost is lost."

Other shop owners echoed the brothers’ sentiments. Paku Tsavani, who owned a bookstore at the mall, said he had lost laptop computers and cash, though books were left in their place.

Tsavani appeared reluctant to blame security forces when he spoke to The Associated Press, saying he doesn't know who took his goods. 

"Obviously the terrorists wouldn't steal those things, so we just don't know," Tsavani said.

The brazen attack on the luxury mall, in which non-Muslims were reportedly targeted, was carried out by militants from al Shabaab, an offshoot of al Qaeda based in Somalia.

Another witness told The Associated Press that he saw a Kenyan soldier take cigarettes out of a dead man's pocket. 

The government said it would seek those responsible and prosecute them.

"We wish to affirm that government takes very seriously allegations of looting and that those found to have engaged in looting will be prosecuted," Interior Minister Ole Lenku said, according to Reuters.

A military spokesman did not answer repeated calls for comment from the AP. 

Kenyan troops were also accused of looting during a huge fire in August at Nairobi's main airport.

Lenku, who conducted a press briefing on Sunday in which he confirmed nine suspects in custody, also said there were no reports of missing persons from the mall filed with police.

The Kenya Red Cross, however, issued a report on Monday, that put the number of missing people at 39. The Red Cross also said no search and rescue operations were carried out over the weekend as government agencies continued to probe the complex and clear rubble.

More than a thousand people successfully fled the mall or were rescued officials have said.

Kenyan officials visited the mall area on Monday said they would question top security officials in attempt to determine whether they failed to act on intelligence of an impending attack.

Government officials and religious leaders will attend a prayer breakfast on Tuesday in honor of the Westgate victims, NTV Kenya reported.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.