Nairobi (AFP) –
The trial opened Wednesday of four men charged in connection with the massacre at Kenya’s Westgate mall, an attack claimed by Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents.
The men are not accused of carrying out the attack, but of lending support to the gunmen.
The four, Adan Mohamed Abidkadir Adan, Mohamed Ahmed Abdi, Liban Abdullah Omar and Hussein Hassan Mustafah, have all pleaded not guilty to charges of supporting a terrorist group.
The charge sheet gives no details of the nature of their alleged support, but security sources say the prosecution will argue they played a role in logistics for the gunmen, including organising accommodation.
Witnesses in the mall after the attack described how the fighters stormed the crowded complex, firing from the hip and hurling grenades at shoppers and staff.
View gallerySmoke rises from the roof top of the Westgate mall, …
Smoke rises from the roof top of the Westgate mall, on September 23, 2013 in Nairobi, as Kenyan troo …
In court, witness Stephen Juma described how he had been outside the mall directing traffic when a car pulled up at the building and three men leapt out.
“I began to hear gunshots, I made a radio call for help while running to the main entrance,” Juma said.
“I took shelter in a residential compound until when I saw policemen come,” he said, adding that he had not seen the faces of the three men.
All the gunmen in the Westgate siege — understood to have totalled four, not the dozen that security forces initially reported — are believed to have died during the attack, according to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Shebab said the gunmen came from a special suicide commando brigade.
View galleryForensic experts comb through the wreckage of Westgate …
Forensic experts comb through the wreckage of Westgate mall on September 30, 2013, after Islamist fi …
They said the attack was a warning to Kenya to pull its troops out of southern Somalia, where they are fighting the extremists as part of an African Union force.
Interpol and the FBI have assisted Kenya in trying to identify four bodies believed to be those of the attackers.
“We believe, as do the Kenyan authorities, that the four gunmen inside the mall were killed,” the FBI’s legal attache in Kenya Dennis Brady said last week, in a statement posted on the bureau’s website.
“There is no evidence that any of the attackers escaped from the area where they made their last stand.”
However, a New York police report said the lack of concrete evidence of their death means they may have escaped.
View galleryArmed Kenyan policemen take cover outside the Westgate …
Armed Kenyan policemen take cover outside the Westgate mall in Nairobi on September 23, 2013 as they …
A second security guard, Patrick Otwane, also gave evidence on Wednesday, describing how he had seen two men shooting at the mall entrance wearing “dark glasses, headscarves, brown T-shirts and jackets.”
Two of the gunmen are named in court documents as Mohammed Abdinur Said and Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, a 23-year-old Somali who spent time in Norway.
Like the attackers, the four on trial are all ethnic Somalis, but it is unclear whether they are Somali or Kenyan citizens.
Western officials have suggested that as many as 94 people could have died in total in the attack.
Bodies were buried under tonnes of rubble after part of the mall’s roof collapsed at the end of the raid following an intense fire that burned for weeks.
The trial continues Thursday.