On the Ground in Kenya
Part 2: Terror at the Westgate Mall
Part 2 of an interview with Dennis Brady, the FBI’s legal attaché in Nairobi, Kenya.
Q: On September 21, 2013, al Shabaab gunmen attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. Over a period of several days, they killed more than 70 people. What was the FBI’s response?
Brady: The attack started on a Saturday. I was called to the embassy, and we immediately began securing resources to assist the Kenyans. Our people were on the scene from the first day. The FBI’s role was—and continues to be—to facilitate, enable, and assist the Kenyan investigation and prosecution regarding a crime that occurred largely against Kenyan citizens on their soil.
Q: After the attack ended, what was the crime scene like?
Brady: Very complicated. Westgate was a large mall, four stories, with underground parking and an attached parking structure. In the process of fighting the attackers, there were explosions and a fire. The area where the attackers were had home furnishings that caught fire. The fire spread and continued to burn, causing that part of the structure to collapse into a pit that smoldered for weeks.
Q: Was it dangerous for investigators working to collect evidence?
Brady: It’s amazing we got our Evidence Response Team [ERT] people down into that pit. It was a very difficult place to work. While ERT was doing its work, every now and then a propane tank would explode or vehicles on the edge of the collapse would fall in and catch fire. But there was a lot of attention paid to the soundness of the structure and where we could reasonably collect evidence. Safety of the investigators was paramount. We had an FBI structural engineer and hazardous materials experts on scene in addition to our other assets. At the height of the initial investigation, the Bureau had more than 80 people on the ground there.
Q: Where does the investigation stand now?
Brady: The Kenyans have charged four individuals in connection with the terror attack, and the case is moving through the court process. The four are directly connected to the individuals who physically carried out the attack. Nobody is under the impression that we have fully identified the entire network in this attack, however. That’s why the investigation continues.
Q: There have been conflicting reports about what happened to the gunmen. Can you comment?
Brady: We believe, as do the Kenyan authorities, that the four gunmen inside the mall were killed. Our ERT made significant finds, and there is no evidence that any of the attackers escaped from the area where they made their last stand. Three sets of remains were found. Also, the Kenyans were on the scene that first day and set up a very secure crime scene perimeter, making an escape unlikely. Additionally, had the attackers escaped, it would have been publicly celebrated and exploited for propaganda purposes by al Shabaab. That hasn’t happened.
Q: All in all, are you pleased with how the legat responded to the crisis?
Brady: Very much so. Our people stood shoulder to shoulder with the Kenyans through some very difficult days. It’s also worth noting that it wasn’t just Americans helping the Kenyans. It was an international effort. But yes, I am proud of how the legat responded and how we were able to assist our host country when they most needed us.