By Humphrey Malalo
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Four men accused of helping al Qaeda-linked militants launch a deadly attack on a Nairobi shopping mall last year have said they were tortured in prison and a state-funded rights body is investigating, a lawyer for two of them said on Monday.
The four had been due to attend court last week but did not appear. A prison officer said the men could not appear because they were undergoing "bed rest", but he gave no details.
Gunmen linked to the Somali Islamist group al Shabaab attacked Westgate mall in September last year, a raid that left at least 67 people dead. Four men were believed to have carried out the raid but officials said they all died inside.
The four men on trial are accused of helping those gunmen in a range of ways. They all deny the charges.
"There was an incident at Kamiti maximum prison on Aug. 27 in which the authority unleashed severe torture and assault on the inmates," lawyer Chacha Mwita, representing two of the accused, told the court.
"The commission that promotes and protects human rights commenced its investigation last week on Friday and recorded statements from inmates and prison warders," he said.
There was no immediate formal comment from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), but one official who declined to be named said a probe had been carried out.
"We did our own investigations but the report is not yet ready," the commission official told Reuters by telephone.
The officer in charge of Kamiti's maximum prison where the four have been held, Henry Kisungu, told the court the authorities did not bring the men to court "as they are under bed rest within prison".
The court officials and lawyers will visit the prison on Wednesday to make their own observations related to the allegations of torture.
The trial of the four began in January and several witnesses have already been heard.
The security forces and officials faced public criticism for their handling of the Westgate operation in which the gunmen laid siege to the mall for four days. The army admitted two soldiers looted some property while the siege was going on.
Al Shabaab said it launched the attack on the mall in retaliation for Kenya's deployment of troops in Somalia.
(Editing by Edmund Blair)