News / Africa

Kenya Mall Attack Highlights Police Role in Fighting Terrorism

A Kenya General Service Unit policeman stands guard in the area around Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Sept. 25, 2013.
A Kenya General Service Unit policeman stands guard in the area around Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Sept. 25, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Anita Powell
— A terrorist attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi highlighted the importance of police in fighting terrorism. Kenyan police - many of them without adequate protection such as flak jackets - were the first to rush to the scene of the four-day siege that left at least 67 people dead and 61 missing. Security analysts say African nations need to emphasize the role of police in fighting terrorism. 
 
The first people to rush to the scene of the shooting in Nairobi’s upscale Westgate mall were regular policemen.
 
They bore little resemblance to the heavily armed soldiers and elite police units who moved in with assault rifles as the four-day siege unfolded and gunmen from Somalia’s al-Shabab militant group executed shoppers and seized hostages.
 
Most of that first line of police officers weren’t even wearing uniforms and lacked basic protections such as bulletproof jackets and helmets. Most carried handguns - a poor match for well-equipped, heavily armed militants.
 
Kenyans say they’re moved by these initial images broadcast around the world. Like the policeman who balanced a baby on the barrel of his rifle and carried the child outside. Or the cop who clutched his wounded stomach while covering the back of his colleague as he scanned for gunmen inside the mall. Or the young cop in the checked shirt who was photographed numerous times, escorting women and children to safety.
 
Bethuel Kiplagat, founder of the Africa Peace Forum, a Nairobi-based think tank that focuses on peace and security, said Kenya’s people appreciate their bravery.
 
“In the circumstances I think they did a marvellous [job], they risked their lives,  we all salute them as the president did yesterday," Kiplagat said. "We have lost some of our gallant soldiers and policemen in this remarkable rescue operation which they undertook.”
 
Anneli Botha, a senior terrorism researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, recently returned from Nairobi, where she was helping train Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit. That’s the elite unit that was seen going in to the mall as the siege continued. She said the police response was initially “chaotic,” but that they overall did a good job.
 
Botha, a former South African police captain, said all police have a role to play in fighting terrorism. Police, she said, have the opportunity to gather intelligence on the ground and to investigate cases fully. Leaning on the military, as she noted Nigeria has done in the past, often leaves out an essential weapon in fighting terrorism: the justice process.
 
“Not a lot of countries appreciate that role. They often think of counterterrorism as a short-term initiative," Botha remarked, "it’s a question of you know what, you identify the bad guy, you catch him - or you eliminate him, in some countries. But we would prefer to [have] more of a situation where we start to use the law and to play according to the rules provided by the law. So you respect due process, you respect the rule of law, you respect human rights.” 
 
J. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center and an advisor to United States Africa Command, known as AFRICOM, said although Kenya’s military has had success fighting al-Shabab in Somalia, soldiers have less of a place fighting terrorism at home.
 
"There's no way the attack on the Westgate shopping center could have occurred without al-Shabab spending weeks, if not months, doing reconnaissance, planning carefully, perhaps even doing dry runs of their plan," Pham said. "That doesn't happen without safe houses, without supporters, and you can't turn the military against that. You need policing, intelligence and those are capacities that are very, very different than the military's tool kit. And so just as much as the military needs to be reinforced, you also need to build up the civilian policing and law enforcement and intelligence capabilities."
 
And Botha said that even nations that are considered to be at little risk for terrorist attacks - such as South Africa - need to boost up their counterterrorism police efforts.
 
A spokesman for South Africa’s elite Hawks police unit said this week that they were looking into the possibility that al-Shabab used this country to raise funds and recruit fighters. He declined to give many details of that ongoing investigation.

VOA West Africa Correspondent Anne Look contributed to this report

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid