Four Cabinet Secretaries and the Kenya Defence Force boss were warned that al-Shabaab terrorists were planning a Mumbai-style attack in Nairobi, where they would storm a building and hold hostages.
The warnings started in January and increased early this month when the Cabinet Secretaries, who are members of the National Security Council, were told of plans to cause mayhem in Nairobi and Mombasa on September 13 and 20.
According to counter-terrorism reports seen by the Saturday Nation, Cabinet Secretaries Julius Rotich (Treasury), Joseph ole Lenku (Interior), Amina Mohammed (Foreign Affairs), Raychelle Omamo (Defence) and KDF boss General Julius Karangi were alerted on the impending attacks. The report said terrorists planned to storm a building with guns and grenades and “probably hold hostages”.
“Briefs were made to them informing them of increasing threat of terrorism and of plans to launch simultaneous attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa around September 13 and 20, 2013,” the report says.
The briefs were also escalated to the National Security Advisory Committee in mid-September, when intelligence reports showed that the al-Shabaab had intensified activities in Kenya and were planning an attack.
The committee is the top security organ in Kenya. The council comprises the President, Deputy President, Cabinet Secretaries for Defence, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Attorney-General, Chief of Kenya Defence Forces, Director of National Intelligence Service and the Inspector-General of Police. It was not immediately clear whether the President received the brief.
Last week’s Westgate attack that killed at least 67 and injured 175 people happened on September 21, a day after the projected date.
The attack on Westgate, which is owned by an Israeli, followed similar warnings from Israel to the Kenya government.
The Israelis said terrorists were planning to attack premises owned by its citizens during the Jewish holidays between September 4 and 28. “The Israeli Embassy in Nairobi has raised concern with the Foreign Affairs Ministry that Iran and Hezbollah from Lebanon have been collecting ‘operational intelligence and open interests in Israeli and Jewish targets around the world including Kenya,’” warns the report filed on September 13, 2013.
Also targeted were US and British installations and an unspecified UN office. The report identified Ahmed Imam Ali as the man who would carry out the attack on the installations.
The Cabinet Secretaries named in the report could not be reached for comment yesterday. Short text messages sent to their phones did not elicit response.
According to the intelligence situation report, Westgate and Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi had been flagged for attack early this year. The report names Sheikh Abdiwelli Mohammed and Sheikh Hussein Hassan as the masterminds.
“They are believed to... have already surveyed the two targets,” says the report.
It says the Westgate raid was ordered by al-Shabaab leader Abdi Godane and that some of the attackers involved were operating in Somali’s Bullo Marer area near Barawa. Godane is the new al-Shabaab Emir after he assassinated Omar Shafik Hammami and chased away Sheikh Aweys, who later handed himself to the Somali government.
President Kenyatta has promised to punish the terrorists who attacked the mall and vowed that the military will not retreat from pacifying Kenya’s borders. However, al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Abulaziz Abu Muscab dismissed President Kenyatta in an interview on Al-Jazeera television, saying Kenya “had no capacity” to bring justice to al-Shabaab.
The report also warns of an influx of religious extremists to North Eastern and Coast regions of the country.
“In Lamu, an unknown number of al-Shabaab operatives are hiding close to a herder’s camp between Katsakakairu and Nyangoro near Witu,” it says.
Apart from attacking churches in northern Kenya, the militants are said to be targeting Times Tower and popular entertainment spots on Koinange and Kimathi streets in Nairobi.
“Other than the clubs, they also surveyed Times Tower and Nyayo House. During this mission, they identified peak hours, security checks, CCTV cameras and ideal points from where to carry out car bomb attacks. They further observed that the buildings could easily be accessed using fake identification documents obtained from River Road, Nairobi,” says the report.
The Times Towers raid was to be carried out by Musharaf Abdulla, a member of the Al Shabaab cell that was planning to attack Parliament Buildings in September last year.
The report says many Muslim youths in Nairobi and Mombasa were being radicalised, adding: “Some Islamic scholars with extremist tendencies have been conducting programmes in schools (names withheld) within Nairobi.”
According to the report, the problem of fighting terrorism in Kenya is the constant innovation by the terrorists and lack of awareness by the public.
The report says that identifying al-Shabaab returnees was a major challenge.
“Some of them are only identifiable through Christian names and aliases, while others have no form of identification at all,” says the report.
The report also says that they have adopted” a strict operational security measures”.
“This includes reducing use of mobile phones, communicating through encrypted messages, using e-mail draft boxes such as Dead Letter Boxes and adopting use of such applications as WhatsApp. They have also minimised interactions with non-members, thus reducing opportunities for recruitment against them,” the report says.
The report singles out levels of corruption in government as a key problem that allows foreigners and terrorists to enter Kenya.
In a previous version of this article, published in the Saturday Nation of September 28,2013 as the lead story, we referred to the Al Shabaab spokesman as Hamza Mohammed instead of Sheikh Abulaziz Abu Muscab. This was in error because Mr. Hamza Mohamed is an Al Jazeera Journalist who interviewed Sheikh Muscab, Al Shabab military spokesman in the story we used as background. The error arising from mix-up of the names is regretted. We apologise to Mr Hamza Mohammed and his associates for any inconvenience or embarrassment that may have been occasioned to him by that error.