How Westgate attack plotters were nailed

It started like a normal robbery on a sunny Saturday afternoon on September 21, 2013 when armed Al Shabaab terrorists stormed the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.

What followed was a battle for survival for hundreds of shoppers, workers and party goers who were interrupted by gunmen shooting indiscriminately and detonating grenades at will.

At the end of the siege which lasted five days, 67 people were dead with more than 200 injured and properties worth billions of shillings destroyed in the terror attack.

Yesterday, after a seven-year trial, two Al Shabaab extremists and sympathisers who masterminded the deadly terror attack were found guilty in a decision that has brought joy to the victims and victory to the State in its fights against terrorism.

Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi ruled that Mohammed Ahmed Abdi and Hussein Hassan Mustafa, were in constant communication with the four terrorists at Westgate and coordinated the operations from their hideout in Eastleigh.

“I find them guilty as charged and convict them accordingly for being conspirators to the terrorist act that left 67 people dead, hundreds injured and properties destroyed. The frequency of their conversation with the attackers proves they had a common intention to kill,” ruled Andayi.

Abdi bore the biggest responsibility as the person who coordinated the attack and was found with video evidence on his laptop which encouraged the Al Shabaab to kill ‘infidels’ and action videos similar to what took place at Westgate.

According to the magistrate, their intention was to collude with the attackers to cause fear to the public, kill and destroy property.

“It is clear there was mutual agreement between them and the actual attackers to carry out terrorism. The prosecution didn’t have to prove their actual presence at the scene as the call data show the coordination they did from their hide out,” ruled Andayi.

Andayi recreated the scene of the terror attack based on first-hand witness testimonies before analysing the investigators' report and arriving at the decision to punish the two.

Witnesses at the scene testified that at around 12.30pm on September 21, 2013, four attackers wearing black jackets, dark glasses and headscarf stormed the shopping mall and started shooting indiscriminately.

Those inside the mall thought it was a normal robbery and came out to see what was happening only to encounter terrorists shouting that they are Al Shabaab and were on a mission to kill anyone they considered an 'infidel'.

Police witnesses who arrived at the scene also stated they at first thought it was a robbery until they got into the mall and started exchanging fire. A hunt ensued for the terrorists which took five days after the four attackers were killed inside the building.

After identifying the attackers and recovering mobile phones they were using, investigators started piecing information together which led them to the command centre in Eastleigh where Abdi is said to have been issuing instructions.

“The prosecution has proved that Abdi was the coordinator and spoke with the terrorists more than 50 times. One of the attackers was his brother-in-law and he knew him well. His defence that he only became aware of the Westgate attack after his arrest is a mere cover-up,” ruled Andayi.

Few days after the incident, Abdi was arrested in Kitale and found with the laptop.

Mustafa, a Somali refugee, had apparently schooled with one of the attackers while they were at Kakuma Refugee Camp.

Investigations revealed that he linked up with his friend (the attacker) in Eastleigh before the attack and was in constant communication through mobile phone Sim cards they registered three days before the attack.

Frequency of conversation

Andayi ruled that from the inferences of Abdi and Mustafa’s actions, the frequency of their conversation before the attack could not have been just a normal talk.

The third accused, Liban Abdullahi Omar whose brother was one of the terrorist at Westgate, however, was acquitted for lack of evidence.

Andayi ruled that although Omar shared his phone with his brother, he was not aware that his brother had joined the terror group.

“His explanation that they shared the phone with his brother is credible. There is no evidence that he communicated with any of the attackers, otherwise we will have everyone in jail for lending their phones to their brothers to communicate,” ruled Andayi.

Sentencing will be delivered on October 22.