Pressure mounts on Kenyan government over mall attack
NAIROBI, Kenya – Pressure mounted on the Kenyan authorities a week after the Nairobi mall carnage amid questions over the fate of the missing and accusations Saturday, September 28 that top brass failed to heed security warnings.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed not to bow to the Shebab group that claimed the Westgate mall bloodbath and threatened more attacks if Kenya failed to pull its troops out of Somalia.
But his administration faced tough questions after the leaking of an intelligence report dated September 13 that warned of an elevated risk, which some top officials said was treated too casually.
Senior security officials told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity that an intelligence report warning of an attack had been sent to the treasury, interior, foreign and defense ministers, as well as the army chief.
"Briefs were made to them of increasing threat of terrorism and of plans to launch simultaneous attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa around September 13 and 20, 2013," according to the report, quoted in the Nation newspaper.
The report also said Israel, which has close security ties with Kenya, had warned of plans to attack Israeli-owned property in September, a month that included several Jewish holidays.
The Westgate mall, popular with expatriates and wealthy Kenyans, is part owned by Israelis and had long been considered a prime target.
Lawmakers are to grill the head of the NIS intelligence agency that produced the report and other top brass on Monday, September 30.
One top security official speaking to Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job said Kenya's security apparatus had been casual in its response to the flow of intelligence warnings.
"There is no way one can say there was no intelligence on this attack because those reports started trickling in from late last year. And they were specific with targets including Westgate," he said.
"Whenever these reports come, they are shared all across the government with relevant authorities at high levels, but they still take them casually."
The media have been awash with reports of the possible involvement in the brazen September 21 commando operation of Samantha Lewthwaite, a white British woman with ties to jihadist groups.
Diplomats however have said there is no evidence linking the "White Widow" to the attack on the Westgate mall.
Analysts say instead that the scarce information available points to a key role played by militants based in Kenya, which has a large ethnic Somali community.
'I don't feel safe'
The United States issued an updated advisory on Friday, September 27, warning of "the risks of travel to Kenya". Other countries have also warned their citizens.
The Kenyan government reacted angrily, condemning the advisory as "unnecessary and uncalled for" and urging Washington to withdraw it.
The official mourning period ended on Friday but burials were still being held Saturday for some of the 67 known victims of the attack, which killed a popular radio host, relatives of the president and several foreigners, including a prominent Ghanaian poet.
Some Kenyans were unable to even mourn, with 61 people still reported missing by the Kenyan Red Cross.
Exactly a week after the attack, the Junction shopping mall – which caters to the same clientele as Westgate but on the other edge of town – was far from deserted but less packed than usual.
"I usually come here with my daughters for the whole morning. Today I am here to pick up some food from the supermarket and leave," said Florence Kimathi, a 35-year-old broker.
"I don't feel safe here... I am a mother and it is hard to take those images out of my head... after those you saw on television with children getting shot like animals," she said.
Hundreds of people gathered near the site of the attack Saturday for a marathon multi-faith vigil, lighting candles and praying for the victims.
Security officials and rescuers are adamant that the part of the Westgate mall still standing has been thoroughly searched, but one section of the complex under the rooftop car park collapsed during the siege after a huge fire erupted.
Kenya's interior minister has insisted that only an "insignificant" number of bodies could remain, creating some confusion among the public.
Red Cross chief Abbas Gullet said the priority during the attack was to evacuate the wounded and not to retrieve the many bodies his teams saw on the rooftop car park.
"And that's what happened. So now we have bodies there," he said.
An Agence France-Presse photographer saw one bulldozer brought to the Westgate wreckage Saturday, but with the scene strictly sealed off it was difficult to assess progress. – Rappler.com