Marco Werman: As this year draws to a close, we’re revisiting some of the biggest stories we've covered. Today, the attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. That was back in September. 67 people died, and more than 200 were injured. You’ll remember the Islamist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the siege, but the investigation to exactly what happened has been marred by confusion. So where are things at right now? Well, during the siege, we spoke with Kenyan journalist, Laura Walubengo, and she’s with us again now. Before we dig into the investigation, what’s happening at the Mall now, Laura? Was it open for Christmas shopping, or are there parts of it still being rebuilt?
Laura Walubengo: The mall is completely shut off. The access road to the mall was blocked on one side for about 2 months, and they opened it up and now, at least you can pass through outside the mall. But the mall is completely shut. They've put some iron sheets outside so you can’t actually see in the mall. The Nairobi governor, Evans Kidero, has set up this committee to come up with some kind of recovery strategy, and they’re supposed to touch base early next year.
Werman: But is the long-term plan to rebuild the Westgate shopping center?
Walubengo: Absolutely, the long term plan is to rebuild. What they’re trying to do, actually, with this committee is to reassure investors that any losses that they may have in the country will be protected by the government, or the government will be involved actively in trying to make sure that any economic losses suffered by any businesses are recovered.
Werman: Apparently, I gather other shopping malls in Nairobi have beefed up their security since the attack. I guess there’s a fear that malls are now a target for extremists.
Walubengo: What they've done is, not only the malls have had their security beefed up, but we've had places, even churches are beefing up their security. So any car going in, they’ll check even up into your engine to make sure that everything is safe and sound. In some places, they actually ask you to step out so they can check under the car seat and on the seat. It is a common sight all across Nairobi.
Werman: Laura, when the attack happened, there were so many questions at the time about the attackers: How many there were, the response by the Nairobi police and military, including some charges that they were looting shops during the siege. Unpack for us what we know for sure, right now.
Walubengo: Yes. Four of the attackers have been arrested. During the time of the charge, one of the inspectors was trying to have an affidavit passed in court where they said that another four suspects died at the mall, but the court rejected that because there wasn't enough evidence. So there is actually a lot of mystery surrounding the people who perpetrated the attack.
Werman: The New York police department also came in to assist the Kenyan authorities with the investigation, and some of the reports that I've been reading suggest the NYPD and the Kenyans don’t see eye to eye on the investigation.
Walubengo: It’s quite a bad situation. Because of the ties that the US government and the Kenyan government have, the US government will not actually go ahead and say â€œLook, this is what we found out.â€ And the Kenyan government will stick to their story, so right now the story is that there are only four suspects. The others who managed to flee are being looked for. As to whether the army actually blew up part of the Westgate mall, as they were trying to find these suspects is still up in the air. The police are actually flatly denying it. One of the biggest issues that came out of that is that some of the army soldiers were involved in looting. There were a lot of security officers who were caught on camera looting from some of the several stores. There was also the questions raised of, let’s say a jewelry store â€“ Jewelry store is fully packed with all these items, and then after the siege, there’s like a quarter of the goods that they have on display actually there, and the question is raised, like see, these al-Shabab guys didn't actually look like they wanted to steal anything, so who could have taken this. And those are some of the biggest questions that came out of there because we’re like we loaded security officers for protecting us, but why can’t they own up to the fact that some of the officers were involved in looting? The government still flatly denies that anybody was involved.
Werman: How have relations between Somalis and Kenyans in Nairobi changed since this attack? Are people more suspicious or does life go on as normal?
Walubengo: People are definitely more suspicious. I mean, if you look at all the families that were affected by the Westgate incident, a lot of people are suspicious. And there've been incidents of fighting here and there, but nothing too dramatic, fortunately. So there is a kind of wariness, but people are trying to keep to themselves and really look at who their neighbors are. And I do believe a lot of policemen have been receiving tip-offs from members of the public, as a result of this Westgate attack, and the wariness that it has produced among the Kenyans against Somalis.
Werman: How has it changed your own life, Laura?
Walubengo: I miss the mall because my office used to be near there and it was actually one of the better malls that we had in Nairobi. It was kind of like a landmark for the city because it meant so many things and there were so many things to see in there. And personally, I like the fact that I see a lot of security in hotels and in different malls and in churches. It makes me feel a bit more secure. But it also has developed a little mistrust for the new government, personally.
Werman: Kenyan journalist, Laura Walubengo, speaking with us from Nairobi. Thank you very much.
Walubengo: Thank you.