Mall attackers may have fled during chaos

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Associated Press

In this still image, taken from Citizen TV footage via the Kenya Defence Force and made available on October 4, a man reported to be one of the four armed militants walks around a store inside the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Picture: Kenyan Defence Force via Citizen TV

Nairobi - The four attackers responsible for killing at least 67 people at a Kenyan shopping mall may have escaped due to lax security, according to a New York police report released on Tuesday.

The victims - aged 8 to 78 and from 13 different countries - were killed at the Westgate mall in Nairobi during a terrifying assault claimed by Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab terror group.

The media speculated the gunmen may have escaped in the chaos of the September fighting, although security sources in Kenya said they died in a final stand off with commandos.

The New York police report said the last confirmed sighting of the attackers on the mall's CCTV system was on September 22 at 00h54 - 12 hours after the start of the attack.

It took Kenya almost four days to declare the mall safe. The day before doing so, Kenyan forces started a fire and collapsed a large part of the mall, the report said.

“It is unknown if the terrorists were killed or escaped the mall. A major contributing factor to this uncertainty was the failure to maintain a secure perimeter around the mall,” it said.

The New York conclusions are based on information obtained by its police officers and unclassified open source information.

Interpol is assisting Kenya in trying to identify four bodies suspected of being those of the gunmen. No identification has yet been announced.

The New York report also highlighted poor co-ordination between the Kenyan police and the army, which saw troops kill one police officer and wound the commander of a police team.

Most of the victims were probably killed in the first hour of the attack when the gunmen engaged in “wholesale killing” of those trying to hide in places like storerooms, the report said.

According to witnesses and CCTV footage, the gunmen did not want to take hostages, only kill a broad spectrum of people.

The New York police report also confirmed a “conscious but erratic attempt” at avoiding Muslim casualties but voiced fears over the possibility of future copycat attacks.

At least one attacker asked some of the victims if they were Muslim, if they answered yes they were asked the name of the Prophet Mohammed's mother. If they didn't know, they were shot.

“It also clearly illustrates that armed assaults by terrorists on 'soft' targets such as a shopping mall are a simple, effective and easy to copy tactic,” the report said.

Al-Shabaab said the attack was a warning to Kenya to pull its troops out of southern Somalia, where they are fighting the extremists as part of an AU force.

Western officials suggest as many as 94 could have died in the attack, with some victims potentially remaining under tons of rubble after part of the mall's roof collapsed.

The four attackers are understood to have trained in Somalia.

In Kenya, four ethnic Somalis are due in court next week over the massacre, charged with supporting a terrorist group.

They also face charges of entering Kenya illegally and obtaining false identification documents. - AFP

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