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.
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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact 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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs