Published December 11, 2013
A report by the New York Police Department into the September terror attacks at an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya suggests that only four gunmen were involved -- and all four may have escaped the clutches of the Kenyan police and armed forces.
The report, released Tuesday, casts new doubts on the official story of the attack, which began September 21 when gunmen from the Al Qaeda-linked Somali terror group Al-Shabab attacked the mall, a popular spot among Western diplomats and tourists. After a siege by Kenyan authorities, followed by several explosions that resulted in the partial collapse of the mall on the morning of September 24, government officials claimed that the site had been cleared and that four attackers had died.
"As a cop, I’m very skeptical of claims until I see proof," NYPD Lt. Det. Kevin Yorke, who prepared and presented the report, said at a press conference Tuesday, adding that there was "a lot of doubt in my mind it is true."
The report suggests that the four terrorists left the mall long before Kenyan authorities declared the scene cleared.
According to the report, there is no evidence that any of the gunmen remained in the mall past 12:15 a.m. September 22, the last time they were seen on the mall's closed-circuit TV system. In fact, the report claims that the attack itself lasted a mere six hours, after which the terrorists huddled in a storeroom, prayed, and tended to one of their colleagues, who had been wounded in the attack's early moments.
The Kenyan government has said that between 10 and 15 gunmen, some of whom may have been foreign fighters, were involved in the attack that left more than 60 civilians dead. The report says that the four gunmen worked in teams of two, entering the mall at two different locations and carrying only AK-47 machine guns and grenades. In contrast to reports at the time of the siege, the gunmen were not carrying handguns, nor were they wearing body armor.
The report is highly critical of the response by Kenyan authorities, saying that a tactical response team did not arrive at Westgate until 90 minutes after the attack began. Police -- who were fully armed, but were not carrying identification -- entered the complex and were fired upon by Kenyan soldiers who had also been summoned. The friendly fire incident killed the tactical response team's commander and wounded another officer.
The report also says that Kenyan police "had no idea what the mall looked like internally," and didn't know they could access the mall's closed circuit TV system.
The report dismisses claims by Kenyan authorities that the gunmen set mattresses on fire to create a literal smokescreen, and suggests that the mall's collapse may have been caused by the Kenyan military's use of rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles. The heat from the fires caused by the resulting explosions may have weakened the mall's structure.
The report does back testimony of eyewitnesses who claimed the gunmen targeted non-Muslims for killing, asking them to recite Muslim prayers and name the mother of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The report says that no hostages appeared to have been taken, and that no women were involved, despite reports in the Kenyan and British press that the so-called "White Widow," aka British-born Samantha Lewthwaite, played a key role in planning or executing the attack.
The report also acknowledges "significant" evidence that Kenyan soldiers looted the mall during and following the siege.
The report is the outcome of an investigation by the NYPD, who sent several detectives to Nairobi in the aftermath of the attack with the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force.