Mall attack: Pressure mounts on Kenyan govt

2013-09-28 22:08
(Picture: AFP)

(Picture: AFP)

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Nairobi - Pressure mounted on the Kenyan authorities a week after the Nairobi mall carnage, amid questions over the fate of the missing and accusations on Saturday that top brass failed to heed security warnings.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed not to bow to the al-Shabaab group that claimed the Westgate mall bloodbath and threatened more attacks if Kenya failed to pull its troops out of Somalia.

But his administration faced tough questions after the leaking of an intelligence report dated 13 September which warned of an elevated risk and some top officials said was treated too casually.

Senior security officials told AFP on condition of anonymity that an intelligence report warning of an attack had been sent to the treasury, interior, foreign affairs and defence ministers, as well as the army chief.

"Briefs were made to them of increasing threat of terrorism and of plans to launch simultaneous attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa around 13 and 20 September 2013," according to the report, quoted in the Nation newspaper.

NIS grilling

The report also said Israel, which has close security ties with Kenya, had warned of plans to attack Israeli-owned property in September, a month which included several Jewish holidays.

The Westgate mall, popular with expatriates and wealthy Kenyans, is part owned by Israelis and had long been considered a prime potential target.

The head of the NIS intelligence agency that produced the report and other top brass are to be grilled by lawmakers on Monday.

One top security official speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job said Kenya's security apparatus had been casual in its response to the flow of intelligence warnings.

"There is no way one can say there was no intelligence on this attack because those reports started trickling in from late last year. And they were specific with targets including Westgate," he said.

"Whenever these reports come, they are shared all across the government with relevant authorities at high levels but they still take them casually."

The media have been awash with reports of the possible involvement in the brazen 21 September commando operation of Samantha Lewthwaite, a British woman with ties to jihadist groups.

Scarce information

Diplomatic sources however have said there is no evidence linking the "White Widow" to the attack on the Westgate mall.

Analysts say instead that the scarce information available points to a key role played by militants based in Kenya, which has a large ethnic Somali community.

The United States issued an updated advisory on Friday warning "of the risks of travel to Kenya". Other countries have also warned their citizens.

The Kenyan government reacted angrily, condemning the advisory as "unnecessary and uncalled for" and urging Washington to withdraw it.

The official mourning period ended on Friday but burials were still being held on Saturday for some of the victims of the attack, which killed a popular radio host, relatives of the president and several foreigners, including a prominent Ghanaian poet.

Some Kenyans were unable to even mourn, with 61 people still reported missing by the Kenyan Red Cross.

Exactly a week after the attack, the Junction shopping mall - which caters to the same clientele as Westgate but on the other edge of town - was far from deserted but less packed than usual.

Part of mall collapsed

"I usually come here with my daughters for the whole morning, today I am here to pick up some food from the supermarket and leave," said Florence Kimathi, a 35-year-old broker.

"I don't feel safe here... I am a mother and it is hard to take those images out of my head... after those you saw on television with children getting shot like animals," she said.

Security officials and rescuers are adamant that the part of the Westgate mall still standing has been thoroughly searched but one section of the complex collapsed during the siege after a huge fire erupted.

Kenya's interior minister has insisted that only an "insignificant" number of bodies could remain to be discovered, creating some confusion among the public.

Red Cross chief Abbas Gullet said the priority during the attack was to evacuate the wounded and not to retrieve the many bodies his teams saw on the rooftop car park.

"And that's what happened. So now we have bodies there," he said.

With around a third of the building collapsed and with the risk of booby traps amongst the wreckage, the work of international forensic and security experts will take days to complete.

An AFP photographer saw one bulldozer move towards the site on Saturday.
Read more on:    al-shabaab  |  kenya  |  east africa  |  security

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