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One Year After Mall Attack, Kenya Security Forces Face Same Challenges


Survivors and relatives of victims carry Kenyan national flags as they attend the first anniversary memorial service of the Westgate shopping mall terrorist attack in Kenya's capital Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2014.

Survivors and relatives of victims carry Kenyan national flags as they attend the first anniversary memorial service of the Westgate shopping mall terrorist attack in Kenya's capital Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2014.

Kenya's president says the country's troops must stay in Somalia to fight al-Shabab, the militant group responsible for last year's deadly assault on Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall.

The comments from President Uhuru Kenyatta were published on the one-year anniversary of the attack, which left at least 67 people dead, most of them shoppers targeted by al-Shabab gunmen.

In an editorial in the Sunday Nation newspaper, Kenyatta said "We owe it our country as well as our brothers and sisters in Somalia to stay the course ... so that East Africa and the Horn of Africa enjoy peace and stability."

Many Kenyans marked the anniversary with ceremonies and prayer vigils for those killed in the attack.


Security challenges

Security forces in Kenya have been blamed for an unorganized response to the Westgate Shopping Mall attack, and for failing to heed security warnings ahead of time. One year after that deadly siege, security experts say nothing has changed.

Charity Irungu lost her husband of 19 years at Westgate when attackers stormed the shopping mall.

Irungu's husband survived the first phase of the attack when gunmen from Somalia's Islamist group al-Shabab sprayed bullets at shoppers and diners.

The kindergarten teacher said her husband was killed by Kenyan security forces during the last two days of the four-day siege. She said she received a call from him in the wee hours of Sunday and he said he was safe, hiding somewhere.

"Still on the same, there was a lady our husbands together in Oshwal and for her she was a written a message by the husband on Monday saying he is hiding somewhere in the Nakumatt code room but we found them both with my husband at city mortuary they were killed by KDF. There is something they saw them doing which was not correct because in fact one of his eyes was spoilt," said Irungu.

The mother of two said she and the other lady asked mortuary staff when the bodies were brought in, but no one was willing to provide information.

It is hard to verify the claims of Irungu, but security agencies were blamed for a delayed and unorganized response to the attack that may have cost lives.

Security analyst Andrew Franklin told VOA the country's security agencies were confused and lacked the skills and the command structure to combat the attackers.

"There was confusion among the government agencies, the secure of Kenya Defense Forces who should have been a supporting role if any role at all in Westgate took over the entire scene, the police presence was essentially thrown out of the scene and they went away in fact the entire operation was conducted in the violation of the Kenyan law," he said.

A parliamentary inquiry said the government had been warned of a possible terror attack on the mall.

The inquiry team recommended all Somali refugees living in Kenyan urban centers to be taken back to the camps and those in the camps to be taken back to Somalia.

What followed was months of security sweeps flushing out al-Shabab adherents, sympathizers and illegal immigrants.

Even after the operation arresting thousands and deporting hundreds, Kenya has continued to witness grenade and gun attacks, especially in Lamu county in the coast region that borders Somalia.

A security guard stands outside the Westgate shopping mall that has been left deserted following last year's attack by al-Shabab gunmen in Nairobi that killed at least 67 people, Sept. 18, 2014.

A security guard stands outside the Westgate shopping mall that has been left deserted following last year's attack by al-Shabab gunmen in Nairobi that killed at least 67 people, Sept. 18, 2014.

Franklin noted nothing has changed and the country's security agencies were faced with the same old challenges.

"The introduction of Kenya Defense Forces domestically again and again since Westgate set no seeming effect the fact that Lamu county is under curfew. I would suggest that these signs all indicate nothing has changed since what we saw at Westgate particularly on Saturday 21st of September when everyone seems to be waiting for orders about what to do," he said.

Kenyan police spokesman Masoud Mwinyi agreed some mistakes were made, but said now they were working hard on how to improve and deal with any terror threats.

"What has come out strongly is that, we need to do things more better, we were able to sit back and evaluate our performance see what we did right and also try to look what we could have done better. So in a nutshell we have tried to work strongly on our response capacity, how can we respond quicker than we did before," he said.

One year on, Kenyans are yet to come to terms with the horror that happened at Westgate, but more than ever, most people feel unsafe and feel their forces have failed to protect them.

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