NAIROBI, KENYA - A Kenyan court says three men must stand trial for their alleged role in the 2013 terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall. The suspects are accused of aiding the Somalia-based militant group al-Shabab.
The suspects were in the Nairobi courtroom Monday as Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi read the ruling.
“The accused persons are charged with 12 counts, some jointly others separately. They are jointly charged with counts one and two with a commission of a terrorist act and conspiracy to commit a terrorist act respectively, contrary to the Prevention of Terrorism Act,” said Andayi.
The suspects -- Liban Abdullahi, Hussein Mustafa and Ahmed Abdi – are also charged with giving support to a terrorist group, aiding a terrorist group and being in the country illegally. A fourth suspect was set free.
Gunmen opened fire on shoppers in the busy Westgate Mall on a Saturday in September 2013, killing at least 67 people and injuring more than 150 others.
The gunmen are believed to have died when the Kenyan army retook the mall. Abdullahi, Mustafa and Abdi were arrested in the weeks following the attack.
Thirty-one-year-old John Wangombe survived the attack. He welcomed the news that finally, someone is going to be put on trial.
“I feel good. I am joyful because of the way the court has ruled… we expect justice for us for what we went through, the whole scenario and I give thanks to the court. Sometimes they take time to check on cases but this one was definitely a good part for me. Definitely, we expect justice. The court has reformed these days and expect those suspects to go to jail,” he said.
Prosecutors spent more than five years gathering evidence against the men, in part because more than 145 witnesses offered testimony.
Only two suspects brought before Kenyan courts on terrorism-related charges have been convicted, and many Kenyans fear this case may also fall apart.
But lawyer Danstan Omari says it will be difficult for the suspects for these suspects to walk free.
“The state has proved a water-tight case. It’s their story the court is going to listen. Rarely do people who reach that stage get acquitted. Most of them they end up getting convicted,” said the lawyer.
The three defendants will appear in court again next week, as the defense begins to present its case.