By Humphrey Malalo
NAIROBI (Reuters) - A bomb scare at a new Kenyan shopping mall proved to be a false alarm, police said on Wednesday, a day after the incident unnerved a nation still scarred by a 2013 Islamist militant assault on another mall that killed 67 people.
Kenyan malls have been on heightened alert since Somali al Shabaab gunmen attacked the Westgate mall in September 2013. Al Shabaab has since staged many more attacks on Kenyan soil and vowed more bloodshed, damaging Kenya's tourism industry.
On Tuesday, police arrested three men after shoppers were evacuated from Garden City Mall when a man was detained by security guards with a small handheld device on him. Officials at the mall had said sniffer dogs confirmed a "live device".
But Inspector General Joseph Boinnet, Kenya's police chief, said it was not an improvised explosives device (IED) as earlier suspected. "It was an amateurish collection of phone wires strapped together to look like an IED," Boinnet said on Twitter.
He said bomb experts took apart the device using a small charge as a safety precaution. "(The) quick response returned the normalcy at the mall," Boinnet said.
On social media, many Kenyans questioned Boinnet's version of events. "Of what benefit would it be to the handler?" Riro, a Twitter user, wrote on his account about Boinnet's comments, questioning why a man would carry a fake device into a mall.
The latest public response mirrored a lampooning police received on Twitter last year, when an explosion at Nairobi's international airport was blamed on a "loose light bulb". Western security experts also dismissed the police account.
Al Qaeda-aligned Somali militants have threatened more attacks on Kenyan cities as retribution for Kenya sending troops to Somalia to fight al Shabaab as part of an African Union force.
Undeterred, developers are due to open several more major shopping malls across Nairobi over the next year to benefit from Kenya's rapid economic growth and the expansion of the east African country's middle class.
(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Edmund Blair/Mark Heinrich)