NAIROBI, Kenya (AP):
Salim Massebellah had just reached the parking lot at Nairobi's premiere mall. Private guards inspected his trunk then passed a mirror underneath his vehicle, checking for the exposed wires that would indicate a bomb.
That was the weapon of choice of al-Shabab, the terrorist group Kenyans had been warned might one day target their capital.
Moments later, the shooting erupted. The terrified guards ran, dropping the mirror. It hit the pavement with a clang.
Sitting stiffly at the wheel, Massebellah saw the two attackers pass by his car. Each one was holding a single, belt-fed machine gun. What neither of them was wearing was a suicide vest. "They were shooting indiscriminately," said Massebellah. "There was nothing the guards could have done."
Experts say the attackers' choice of weapons, including AK-47s and grenades, was decidedly low-tech for al-Shabab, the al-Qaida affiliate based in neighbouring Somalia which is known for its lethal use of suicide bombers.
And it's this very decision to use small arms, instead of explosives, that made possible the most deadly terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 bombing of the United States embassy, analysts say.
If copied elsewhere, including in Western countries, this style of attack could prove equally difficult to stop, both because public places like malls cannot be protected in the same manner as government buildings, and because security services are trained to detect explosives, not small arms.
"My assessment has always been that the day that al-Shabab lets go of the 'Cult of the Suicide Bomber,' we will be in a world of trouble," said Matt Bryden, the former coordinator of the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.
"It's far more complicated to procure the parts for an explosive vest, as well as to find people willing to be martyrs. I always worried that, if you just get guys riding in with AK-47s and grenades, they could do incredible damage," he said. "We have now reached that dangerous place."
CCTV footage retrieved from Westgate Mall shows only four attackers took part in the prolonged siege, though others may have been a part of the September 21 attack and fled, according to a government official close to the investigation who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter.
This handful of fighters easily overpowered the mall's unarmed security guards, killing over 60 civilians and leaving the mall awash with blood.