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

Beijing Warns Hong Kong Protesters, Cracks Down at Home

In suppressing protest news, China reportedly has arrested more than 20 people on the mainland who acted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters More

Competing Goals Could Frustrate Efforts to Fight Islamic State

As alliances shift and countries re-define themselves, analysts say long-standing goals of some key players in Middle East may soon compete with Western goals More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid