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Nation/World

September 26, 2013

Attack puts spotlight on mall safety

NEW YORK — Some malls around the world have been scrambling to add security guards to look for suspicious people following a deadly attack on a shopping center in Nairobi over the weekend. But for other malls, it’s been business as usual.

The mixed reactions by malls across the globe isn’t unusual in an industry whose security efforts vary from unarmed guards in most shopping centers in the U.S. to metal detectors and bag searches in places like Israel to main entrances that resemble airport security lines in India.

The disparity offers a glimpse of why any moves following the Nairobi incident to increase mall security in countries that have less strict procedures aren’t likely to last: The industry continues to struggle with how to keep shoppers safe without scaring them away.

“No one wants, when you go shopping, to be strip searched, to be interviewed in a room by a security guard,” said Simon Bennett, director, Civil Safety and Security Unit at the University of Leicester in England.

Security concerns come after 12 to 15 militants from the Somali Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, wielding grenades, took control of the upscale Westgate mall in Nairobi. Terrorists held Kenya security forces for four days, killing at least 67 civilians and government troops and injuring 175 others.

The Kenyan government said Tuesday that the attackers were defeated, with several suspects killed or arrested. On Wednesday, FBI agents began fingerprint, DNA and ballistic analysis to help figure out the identities and nationalities of the victims and al-Shabab gunmen.

In the aftermath of the attack, security was tight at the Junction Mall in Nairobi. Two of three entry gates were locked shut. Cars were searched more carefully than usual, with guards looking in glove compartments. Two armed soldiers were stationed inside the mall and mall security guards who search patrons with metal detector wands at entry points said the soldiers had been deployed after the Westgate attack.

In the U.S., the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group of shopping centers representing about one third of retail space globally, said the U.S. government’s Department of Homeland Security is reaching out to corporate security at all malls.

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