BY Tanya WILLMER
Kenyan police said Thursday they had learned from their “mistakes” as the nation commemorated the 10th anniversary of a bloody siege at an upmarket shopping centre in the capital Nairobi.
In all, 67 people were killed and more than 200 wounded after gunmen from Somalia’s Al-Shabaab jihadist group stormed the Westgate mall, spraying bullets and hurling grenades at terrified shoppers.
It was one of the deadliest in a string of attacks in Kenya, which sent troops into Somalia in 2011 to join the fight against the Al-Qaeda-linked group that has been waging an insurgency against the central government in Mogadishu for many years.
But Kenyan security forces came under fire over their handling of the Westgate bloodbath, with reports of chaos and confusion in the initial response as well as alleged looting of shops by soldiers sent in to battle the Islamist militants.
In a statement marking the anniversary, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations described the attack as a “coordinated slaughter that detectives later discovered had been planned for months”.
“Based on our response following the attack, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations learnt from its mistakes and has since then put in place mitigating measures to ensure that such an attack does not occur,” the DCI said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
It noted, for example, that communications between Al-Shabaab militants and contacts in Kenya went undetected because of “lax procedures”.
– ‘High surveillance’ –
The siege began around midday on September 21, 2013 as the mall was teeming with shoppers and was officially declared over by the government 80 hours later.
Al-Shabaab said the attack was in retaliation for Nairobi’s military intervention in Somalia and has continued to carry out cross-border assaults.
Two years after Westgate, Al-Shabaab fighters attacked Garissa University in eastern Kenya, killing 148 people, almost all of them students.
It was the second most deadly attack in Kenya’s history, surpassed only by Al-Qaeda’s bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998 that killed 213 people.
In 2019, Al-Shabaab gunmen killed 21 people at the upscale Dusit hotel complex in Nairobi.
This year, there has been a spate of sometimes deadly assaults on civilians and security forces in regions of Kenya that border Somalia, as the government in Mogadishu wages an offensive against Al-Shabaab on home soil.
But a senior Kenyan interior ministry official said progress was being made in efforts to thwart attacks.
“Our end goal is to sustain the highest level of surveillance along our borders and covert/overt security operations across the country, and neutralise the enemy before he strikes,” Raymond Omollo said in a statement.
“This approach has yielded tremendous results in terms of the number of foiled terror attacks targeted at us.”
In October 2020, two men found guilty of conspiring with the Westgate attackers were sentenced to 33 and 18 years.
The government said the four gunmen who carried out the attack were found dead in the rubble at the mall.
Meanwhile, the United States has announced a reward of up to $5 million for information on Abdullahi Osman Mohamed, described as the senior explosives expert for Al-Shabaab.
Engineer Ismail, as he is also known, is also the leader of the group’s media arm Al-Kataib, and a special adviser to Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Diriye, the US State Department said.