Thursday, September 26, 2013

Blame game over Westgate attack

A section of the Westgate Mall that collapsed during the final assault on suspected Al-Shabaab attackers by the Kenya security forces. PHOTO | KDF 

By NATION TEAM
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Rivalry among security agencies and lack of clear command lines badly affected the response to the terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall, the Nation has established.

Jurisdictional differences appear to have extended to blame games among security agencies, as Kenya recovers from its worst terror attack since the 1998 bombing of the Embassy of the United States of America in Nairobi.

Various units of the Kenya Police and the Kenya Defence Forces played key roles in the rescue operation after a band of terrorists linked to Somalia-based Al-Shabaab attacked the shopping mall on Saturday and killed dozens before holding an unknown number hostage inside the up-market complex.

Inquiries by the Nation indicate that a coordinated rescue mission was badly delayed because of disputes between the Kenya Police and KDF officers commanding their units on the ground.

A reconstruction of the rescue mission indicates that a team from the Recce General Service Unit of the Kenya Police early in the rescue operation made its way into the mall and secured most of it, pinning down the terrorists at one end around Nakumatt Supermarket and Barclays Bank.

Rooftop parking

However, the team pulled out after its commander was fatally shot in ‘friendly fire’ following the arrival of a KDF unit.

Also pulling out at the same time was a small group of policemen from various units and armed civilians, who were the first to enter the mall from the rooftop parking and the front entrance and led hundreds of shoppers to safety.

The pullout left a vacuum that apparently allowed the terrorists to regroup and move through the mall slaughtering many captives.

It also allowed the terrorists to deploy heavy-calibre machine guns that they had not used in the earlier shootout.

It took prolonged consultations that also involved State House before President Kenyatta publicly announced that Inspector-General of Police David Kimaiyo was in charge.

However, it was also decided that KDF Special Forces would be the ones to conduct the actual assault on the terrorists, while the GSU and other police units ringed the mall.

The soldiers and their commanders on the ground only answered to KDF chief General Julius Karangi rather than to the police boss, which also complicated the operation.
The teams also appeared to have had different aims. One officer involved said that some units had a priority to locate and rescue a specific group of VIPs.

Barely an hour after the attack, the GSU squad had taken control of almost 70 per cent of the building after moving in to reinforce the small group of policemen, who were the first to enter the building.

The KDF Special Forces came in later to spearhead the operation, with the GSU forming the second inner cordon in the mall behind the army units from the 20 Para Battalion and Maroon Commandos.

The rivalry is understood to have extended to communication on how the public would be informed of the progress of the operation.

As Parliament promised to demand answers from all units involved, it also emerged on Wednesday that the police had been given advance intelligence on the planned terrorist attack, but failed to act.

The Parliamentary Defence Committee Thursday summoned all security chiefs — including National Intelligence Service boss Michael Gichangi—to appear before it next week. The sessions are expected to be dominated by buck-passing.

“The time for responsibility and accountability has come,” Defence Committee chairman Ndung’u Gethenji said.

Likely targets

A local newspaper Thursday quoted an intelligence source claiming Maj-Gen Gichangi had passed information to Mr Kimaiyo and CID director Ndegwa Muhoro on the impending attack on Westgate.

Speaking to the Nation Thursday, however, a highly-placed source within the police denied that such information was ever passed on.

He said all the communication logs and situation reports had been cross-checked in the wake of the attack and confirmed that no such report was ever made.

What was on record in the recent past, he insisted, were the regular alerts on terrorist plots and likely targets such as government buildings, city landmarks and high-rise buildings, tourist hotels, up-market shopping malls frequented by diplomats and expatriates, and western embassies.

From the debate in Parliament in the wake of the attack, it also appears some MPs have already decided who to blame for the security lapse.

Meanwhile, intelligence officers are pursuing leads indicating that a terrorist who is already serving a 59-year jail term was in contact from behind prison walls with the group that planned and carried out the Westgate attack.

Abdimajid Yassin Mohammed was last year jailed after pleading guilty to the charges of terrorism. It is believed that some warders at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison allowed him to communicate with the conspirators outside.

Suicide mission
Mr Mohammed, 26, and a colleague reportedly bought a Peugeot 505 car for Sh180,000 and did not bother to ask for the log book.
They had planned to use it for a suicide mission on Parliament, but the car broke down on September 13 as they set out on their operation.
They were arrested with four suicide bomb belts, 12 hand grenades, four AK 47 rifles, 481 bullets and two home-made bombs. They led police to a flat in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area where some of the arsenal was recovered.

They also confessed that they were sent to Kenya by Jafra Hussein, an Al-Shabaab commander in Mogadishu.

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