News / Africa

Kenya 'At War' with al-Shabab, Faces Security Questions

Foreign forensic experts, flanked by Kenyan military personnel, check the perimeter walls around Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi Sept. 25, 2013.
Foreign forensic experts, flanked by Kenyan military personnel, check the perimeter walls around Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi Sept. 25, 2013.
Reuters
 Kenya is “at war” with Islamist militants who attacked a Nairobi shopping mall, the government said on Saturday as it faced questions about whether it had received advance intelligence warnings of the deadly strike.

A week after the raid on the Westgate shopping center that killed 67 civilians and police and was claimed by the Somali militant group al-Shabab, the government has been trying to reassure Kenyans that it can protect them from further attacks.

Three Kenyan newspapers reported on Saturday that a year ago the country's National Intelligence Service (NIS) had warned of the presence of suspected al-Shabab militants in Nairobi and that they were planning to carry out “suicide attacks” on the Westgate mall and on a church in the city.

In front-page stories, the Nation, Standard and Star newspapers questioned whether the Kenyan government and military may have failed to act on this and more recent warnings this year by local and foreign intelligence services.

“It is not a 'yes' or 'no' answer,” Mutea Iringo, principal secretary in the Ministry of Interior, told Reuters.

“Every day, we get intelligence and action is taken as per that intelligence and many attacks averted. But the fact that you get the intelligence does not mean something cannot happen,” the senior official added.

“What we are saying is that we are at war, and that every day some young Kenyan is being radicalized by al-Shabab to kill Kenyans,” Iringo said, calling on citizens across the east African nation to be alert and cooperate with authorities.

The newspaper reports emerged ahead of a meeting on Monday of the Kenyan parliament's defense and foreign relations committee which is expected to ask security chiefs how much warning they had of Saturday's assault.

In the mall attack that extended into a four-day siege, gunmen fired on shoppers and tossed grenades leaving a trail of victims and shocking Kenya and the world. Al-Shabab said it acted in revenge against Kenyan troops who have been fighting it in neighboring Somalia for two years.

Britain's government said on Saturday a sixth British national had been identified among those killed at the mall. French and Canadian nationals also died.

The Star quoted another NIS briefing in February warning of a gun and grenade attack in Kenya similar to a three-day killing spree by militants in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.

In an editorial, the Standard said the reports pointed to “obvious” security lapses. “It is becoming increasingly apparent that the country's top security organs may have received adequate briefing on imminent terror threats,” it said.

“Why they did not act in time to save the needless deaths at Westgate is astonishing and dumbfounding,” it added.

The possibility that al-Shabab, which has carried out previous smaller gun and grenade attacks in Kenya, may be planning further high-profile strikes presents a major security challenge for President Uhuru Kenyatta, elected in March.

But the incident has also rallied foreign support for him as he confronts charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He deines charges of orchestrating violence following Kenya's disputed 2007 elections.

Forensic probe under way

Five of the mall attackers were killed and Kenyan authorities say they are holding eight people over the raid, which confirmed Western and regional fears about al-Shabab's ability to strike beyond Somalia's borders.

It also dented Kenya's vital tourism industry, although the finance minister says it will not have a long-term impact.

Kenyan officials have not so far specified the identities or nationalities of the attackers, saying forensic investigation of the wrecked mall building and of the dead will take time.

This has produced a deluge of unconfirmed speculation that radicalized diaspora Somalis from the United States and Europe may have been involved in the al-Shabab operation.

U.S., Israeli and European forensic experts are helping Kenya in the investigation.

A week after the attack, the five-story, beige-colored mall remained sealed off to the public. From outside, a spray of bullet holes was visible around one upstairs window.

A team of foreign officials wearing white protective clothing and yellow boots could be seen leaving the mall escorted by an armed man wearing a black flak jacket.

Kenyan and Western officials have said they cannot confirm  speculation that Briton Samantha Lewthwaite, widow of one of the 2005 London suicide bombers, had a role in the mall attack. Some survivors said they saw an armed white woman.

Kenya requested a “red alert” wanted notice issued by Interpol for Lewthwaite, dubbed the “White Widow” by the British media, but said she was wanted in connection with a previous 2011 plot that was also linked by police to al-Shabab.

With the country's security services on high alert, some Kenyans said they were worried that the government may have failed to act on prior intelligence information.

“It sounds like laxity. If you get warnings... you have got to listen to those warnings,” said businessman Vipool Shah.

  • Smoke rises from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 25 2013. 
  • Catholic nuns pray near the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 25, 2013.
  • Fresh graves of Westgate Mall shooting victims in a cemetery in Nairobi, Sept. 25, 2013. 
  • Kenyan security forces stand on the top floor of a building facing the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 25, 2013.
  • Mary Italo, center, grieves with other relatives for her son Thomas Abayo Italo, 33, who was killed in the Westgate Mall attack, as they wait to receive his body at the mortuary in Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 25, 2013. 
  • Kenya Defense Forces soldiers take their position at the Westgate Mall, on the fourth day since militants stormed into the mall, in Nairobi, Sept. 24, 2013.
  • Heavy smoke rises from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 23, 2013.
  • Paramedics run outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi after heavy shooting, Sept. 23, 2013.
  • People donate blood for people injured in the attack at the Westgate Mall, at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Sept. 23, 2013.
  • Stephen, center, who lost his father in Saturday's attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, is comforted by relatives as he waits for the post mortem exam at the city morgue, Sept. 23, 2013.
  • Women carrying children run for safety as armed police hunt gunmen at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2013.
  • Civilians who had been hiding inside during the gun battle manage to flee from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2013.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs