Julius Karangi fights to clear KDF’s name over looting claims

Chief of the Defence Forces Gen Julius Karangi adddress the media at the Department of Defence headquarters in Nairobi Tuesday. [Photo: Collins Kweyu/Standard]

By Cyrus Ombati

Nairobi, Kenya: The military came out to defend itself over claims of looting, as it revealed that two soldiers had been sacked and jailed for being in possession of stolen property, a crime committed during the Westgate Shopping Mall terror attack.

The Chief of Defence Forces Gen Julius Karangi said a third soldier is under investigation.

He identified those sacked as Victor Otieno and Victor Ashiundu. He added that Isaiah Wanjala was under investigation over similar allegations.

Apart from the soldiers, four civilians are also under probe for stealing from the mall during the siege.

One of them, who Karangi said was found with mobile phones and cameras, is an official with the Fire Brigade.

Gen Karangi said the soldiers were found with mobile phones, cameras and chargers that were “stolen” from the mall during the siege.

“Discipline is our core driving point and we are not playing with this issue. That is why we have taken action on these soldiers. Two of them have been jailed and dismissed while a third one is under probe,” he said.

Four-day siege

 The affected soldiers are from the 40 Rangers in Gilgil, which is a special combat unit.  Some 200 soldiers were involved in the operation.

Speaking on his force’s standing, Gen Karangi said KDF was ranked sixth in Africa and 46 in the world in terms of excellence.

And the General stood by his previous assertion that soldiers seen in CCTV footage carrying unidentified items in Nakumatt paper bags had only taken water during the four-day siege.

He explained that the soldiers were in the company of their commander, who had given them permission pick the water from the supermarket after a long operation.

The commander, he said, sought permission from the Nakumatt supermarket manager to get the water and was given the go-ahead.

Gen Karangi said the military had established a board of inquiry into the widespread allegations.

He was speaking at a press briefing attended by the military top brass, Inspector-General of Police David Kimaiyo, CID boss Ndegwa Muhoro, Defence Cabinet Secretary Rachael Omamo and Principal Secretary Monica Juma.

Gen Karangi gave a chronology of events before, during and after the siege, saying the military was discharging their constitutional mandate by responding to an emergency and assisting civilian authority.

Somalia’s terror group al-Shabaab says it was behind the attack, which killed more than 70 people and left more than 200 wounded.

Tuesday, Gen Karangi said all four terrorists were killed during the three-day siege. He added that their weapons had been recovered and experts were working on identifying the bodies.

He said the military had facilitated the repatriation of more than Sh300 million belonging to various financial institutions, which was safe in their vaults and safes.

The institutions, according to the military, included Barclays Bank (Sh68 million), Diamond Trust Bank (Sh65 million), CFC Stanbic (Sh32 million), Kenya Commercial Bank (Sh31 million), ATMs (Sh30 million) and Millionaires Casino (Sh50 million).

He said five military personnel were killed during the attack and that three of them died on the morning of September 23. Gen Karangi said the military arrived at the mall at 4pm, long after police had sent the terrorists into one corner.

“The General Service Unit vacated the building at 6pm before the military took over with an aim of, among other things, neutralising the terrorists.”

Lit a fire

Before then, the terrorists had apparently lit a fire in one of the corners of Nakumatt Supermarket at about 5pm. At about 6.30pm, more hostages were rescued from the casino and banks, he added.

On the second day of the siege at about 2.40am, Karangi said they discovered eight bodies before they later rescued a woman who had been hiding in a car boot at about 5.45am.

 He added that on September 22, they rescued another 15 people from a cold room before the terrorists started another fire at about 4.20pm.

“The fire caused a blackout in the building as we continued to sanitise the building, removing booby traps.”

Making the presentation on Operation Westgate, Col Cyrus Oguna said soldiers captured venturing into a cabinet near the supermarket entrance were viewing the body of a fallen Kenyan.

He also wondered why the source of the footage did not give all the information captured to show the soldiers picking water from the counters given that the supermarket had over 60 working cameras.

 “We believe there has been all forms of manipulation to depict the military negatively, but we wish to state we are professional and disciplined,” said Col Oguna.

Come September 23, three soldiers were killed as they pursued the terrorists. Two others were killed as they tried to collect the bodies of their fallen colleagues.

The military explained that on Monday at about 11am, they launched an anti-tank missile into the building to blast an opening into a room where the terrorists were hiding.

 “This marked the last encounter with the terrorists as a fire broke out on the third floor of the building before it caved in,” he explained.

The military said they constructed a barrier around the mall before they allowed shop-owners in, most of whom had confirmed that their property was intact.

Gen Karangi said such terror situations are complex, and there was no international template on how to handle them and how long they should last, citing the example of the Mumbai hotel siege, during which security forces took eight days to subdue 10 terrorists.