Kenyan police officer takes cover during West
Kenyan police officer takes cover during WestReuters

A detailed report by the New York Police Department on the deadly Westgate Mall massacre in Nairobi, Kenya, reveals previously unknown details of the attack - including the fact that the four attackers likely escaped alive. The report was compiled from publicly-available material and was released Tuesday.

The September attack on a crowded mall killed 67 and wounded 200, in the worst terrorist atrocity to hit the African state since the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi, which killed 212 people. 

Victims ranged in age from 78 to to just eight years old, and came from 13 different countries. Most casualties likely took place within the first hour of the attack, according to assessments.

Although apparently well-planned, the attack itself was carried out with relative ease by just four Al Shabaab terrorists, primarily due to the lack armed security guards at the site and a poorly-coordinated and sometimes thoroughly confused operation by security teams responding to the attack.

The Islamist gunmen were armed with folding-stock AK-47 assault rifles and hand-grenades - relatively "light" weapons, which indicated that they did not expect to encounter any effective resistance in the attack. 

At one point, after realizing that they were ill-equipped to handle what had initially been reported as an armed robbery, Kenyan police called on the military, who dispatched troops to tackle the terrorists. But a lack of proper coordination, coupled with confusion resulting from many of the police first-responders failing to wear any form of law-enforcement identification marks, resulted in soldiers opening fire on members of the police tactical team, killing one officer and wounding the team commander.

Although one of the terrorists was shot in left leg by "an unidentified first-responder" during the first few minutes of the attack, the gunmen strolled largely uninterrupted through the mall, firing at will at innocent bystanders, and talking on their mobile phones to associates in Somalia and possibly Norway, according to reports. At one point, CCTV cameras show the men gathering in a storeroom, apparently relaxed, to eat and pray - with all but one of them putting down their weapons entirely.

Contrary to some reports at the time, the terrorists showed little if any interest in taking hostages, and focused instead on killing as many people as possible. In a graphic illustration of the cold-blooded nature of the attack, the report recounts how one of the terrorists' first targets was a parent-children cookery competition.

Although at points they attempted to distinguish between Muslim and non-Muslim bystanders - only killing the latter - at other points they simply fired at random. According to the report, most of the casualties were inflicted on terrified shoppers huddling together in an attempt to hide from the terrorists - but when discovered, the mass of unarmed civilians presented an easy target.

But most damningly for Kenyan security teams, it appears that despite the presence of scores of police, armed civilians and the military - who eventually fired an anti-tank rocket at the mall - all four terrorists probably escaped alive due to an astonishing failure by security teams to properly cordon-off the area.

Apart from demonstrating the lack of preparedness or training by Kenyan security forces to such an incident, the attacks above all illustrate the relative ease with which such mass-casualty attacks can be carried out against soft targets with large concentrations of innocent civilians. 

It also served as a high-profile reminder that, despite suffering losses inside Somalia at the hands of African Union troops (including Kenyan forces - the main motive given by Al Shabaab for the attack), the Al Qaeda-aligned Al Shabaab is still capable of coordinating large-scale terrorist atrocities outside of the country.

The full report can be read here.

Last month a Kenyan court charged four Somali men for providing support to the terrorist squad which carried out the attack. None of them are believed to have been among those directly involved in the attack, however.