Four linked to Westgate mall attack appear in Kenyan court

NAIROBI (AFP) - Four men charged in connection with Kenya's Westgate mall massacre in September appeared in court on Monday, with defence lawyers and prosecutors arguing over if they should be granted bail.

All four have pleaded not guilty to the charges of "supporting a terrorist group", as well as entering Kenya illegally and obtaining false identification documents.

The Westgate attack, which left at least 67 people dead, was claimed by Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels.

The four suspects, none of whom are accused of being the gunmen in the mall, are Mohammed Ahmed Abdi, Liban Abdullah, Adan Adan and Hussein Hassan.

They are all ethnic Somalis but it is unclear if they are Somali or Kenyan nationals.

"The prosecution must come with a strong and convincing case for why these people should conduct their trial while in custody," defence lawyer Mbugua Mureithi told the court.

The defence is expected to present further arguments during the week on why bail should be granted.

The court ruled that initial hearings would commence on December 19, although the trial is not expected to begin in earnest until late January.

All the gunmen in the Westgate attack - totalling just four, not the dozen that security forces had initially reported - are understood to have died during the four-day siege.

Interpol is assisting Kenya in trying to identify four bodies suspected to be those of the gunmen.

Witnesses in the mall described how the fighters stormed the crowded complex, firing from the hip and hurling grenades at shoppers and staff.

The Kenyan Red Cross has said some 20 people are still missing, and there are fears more bodies could be found in the wreckage of the mall.

Following the attack, the Shebab threatened further attacks against Kenya after Nairobi refused to pull its troops out of Somalia, warning that "rivers of blood will flow in Nairobi".

Kenya invaded southern Somalia to attack Shebab bases two years ago, and later joined the 17,700-strong African Union force deployed in the country.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.