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Kenya mall attack video fuels army looting claims

By Nic Robertson. Zain Verjee and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
October 22, 2013 -- Updated 1132 GMT (1932 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Video footage from inside Westgate Mall appears to show soldiers taking items from a store
  • But the store was burned, so it's hard to say what may have been looted, manager says
  • Kenya's president has ordered an inquiry into the claims, says Deputy President William Ruto
  • Ministry of Defense says it will get to the bottom of the claims, urges people to come forward

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- A month after an attack on Kenya's Westgate Mall claimed at least 67 lives, leaked video footage from inside has sparked anger amid claims that it shows soldiers looting from stores as they hunted for the gunmen.

The security camera footage shows Kenyan army soldiers striding through the Nakumatt department store, close to where one victim was shot to death hours earlier.

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One soldier, and then another, peels off to pick up objects from displays. It's impossible to see exactly what they take, but the footage -- leaked by police -- has fueled allegations by storekeepers of army looting.

Atul Shah, managing director of Nakumatt Holdings, told CNN it was impossible to tell exactly what, if anything, was taken from the store -- which held stock worth more than $16 million -- because it burned in the course of the four-day siege.

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"So I cannot say specifically anything was looted," he said, "but from the video I have seen -- yes, I saw some soldiers coming out with shopping bags. What was inside, what was there -- no, I cannot say."

The video may be inconclusive, but it still has Shah asking questions.

Source: Store in besieged Kenyan mall run by attackers or associates

One piece of footage in particular shows a soldier entering a money exchange booth where Shah said cash is usually kept. He can be seen rummaging around inside and, as he leaves, he appears to put something in his pocket, though it's not clear what that is.

Shah also told CNN that a couple of cash registers that had survived the fire were found to have been forced open. No money remained inside.

So far, he said, the army has told him nothing of what happened in his store.

"Let's hope allegations of looting and all that is not true, but if it is true ... we have a lot to think about our security forces," said Shah.

'Great care and attention'

As Kenya seeks to recover from an attack that shook the nation, the claims of looting have tinged the sadness many feel with anger.

More than a week before the security video was released, Kenya's Ministry of Defense issued a statement about the allegations.

It said that securing the mall was an operation undertaken with other forces and that the army has a history of outstanding performance in operations inside and outside Kenya.

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The army soldiers took "great care and attention," as is necessary in a delicate hostage situation, it said. Some of their own were also killed in the attack.

"However, information is rife in the public domain that some of the (Kenya Defense Forces) soldiers behaved unprofessionally during the operation," the statement said.

The ministry "is committed to get to the bottom of this," it said, and urged members of the public to come forward with information and evidence.

'Unfortunate incident'

Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto acknowledged public anger over the alleged looting in a CNN interview.

"I must admit that it's an unfortunate incident and the president has launched an inquiry to find out exactly what happened," he said.

"That inquiry is under way, and we will take corrective measures to ensure that anybody and every person who participated in this mall incident, that may have overstepped their mandate, will be brought to book."

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It will not be possible to say whether anyone is still missing at Westgate Mall until a forensic examination of the rubble is completed, he said. "That is when we will determine whether there are extra bodies or not," he said.

Ruto, who is on trial in the Netherlands, accused of masterminding violence after Kenya's disputed election in 2007, also said he was confident the claims against him would be shown to be "mere fabricated allegations."

Ruto and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is on trial alongside his deputy, have denied accusations that they coordinated violence among their respective ethnic groups after the disputed election.

CNN's Nic Robertson reported from Nairobi and Zain Verjee from London, and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London.

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