Kenya mall attack: Did terrorists rent shop to hide weapons in advance of Nairobi massacre?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Highly unlikely that the bulky machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and  explosive devices could have been carried in

Defence Correspondent

After their initial spree of killings a group of the Islamists who had stormed Westgate dived into the multi-storey Nakumatt supermarket. Security forces pursuing them began to come under steady fire: six of them were shot dead before, outgunned, they pulled out.

The stream of bullets had not come from just Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles the fighters had been carrying, but heavy calibre machine-gun. Later, there were booby-trapped bombs; some police officers also reported the 'whoosh and boom' of grenades being aimed towards them striking walls.

It is highly unlikely that the bulky versions of GPMGs (General Purpose Machine-Guns) IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) launchers could have been carried into the shopping mall by the terrorists who had initially gained entry pretending to be tourists even if some of them were, as the authorities claimed, men enveloped in niqabs.

It is almost certain that these had been secreted beforehand, say security sources. It is also likely that quite extensive reconnaissance had been carried out beforehand and that the attackers had detailed knowledge of the vast complex including floor plans. One line of inquiry being pursued by the Kenyan police is that they rented retail premises for their arms, which could also have given them access to the paperwork.

The assault in Nairobi which has left at least 72 dead and 200 injured and missing was an operation plotted in detail and well in advance by al-Shabaab, according to Western officials with knowledge of what is being pieced together.

A key element was the gathering of foreign based jihadists with knowledge of English who are likely to have carried out the early research into the shopping centre, blending in among the expatriates and middle-class Kenyan customers. The sustained media campaign by the Islamists which sprang into life during the attack, with endless tweets and online postings, also suggest at large-scale in planning.

The country's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, said that "five terrorists" have been confirmed killed so far at Westland. The bodies of others, say officials, may be found under the collapsed roof of the complex. But there are signs that others may have fled in the guise of escaping hostages.

A man reads the story of how the siege came to an end (Getty) A man reads the story of how the siege came to an end (Getty)  

Security officials present a 'mini-Mumbai' scenario in which extensive reconnaissance was carried out beforehand. In the assault on the Indian city the key player was Daoud Sayed Gilani, a Pakistani American, also known as David Headley, on behalf of the Lahskar-e-Taiba group based in Pakistan.

A British defence source said: "Mumbai was of course a far more complex op with multiple locations and [Lahskar-e-Taiba] had the backing of the resources of an official agency [the Pakistani secret police ISI] but they used Headley because he could use his American personae without raising undue suspicion. There were supposed to be others like him who were never caught.

"Al-Shabaab would have used their foreign passport holders because they would have found it easier to move about and operate than rural Somalis being brought across the border. This was hardly a spontaneous event, the way these guys deployed, the way they carried out tactical withdrawals, the way they were able to hold out for so long, the fact that they could replenish their ammunition shows a lot of pre-planning."

A British passport holder arrested at Nairobi airport trying to leave the country was named as 35 year old Mohammed Abdilazak who, according to the police, was carrying out the wrong boarding card for his Turkish Airlines flight which had left six hours earlier, He has claimed that he went frequently to Kenya to see his mother and insisted he had no connection with the attack.

Al-Shabbab has its own grandiosely named External Operations Arm and the organisation will be more than happy to take credit for this 'spectacular'.

Members of the Kenyan Sikh community come together to cremate a grandmother and son who were killed in the attack (EPA) Members of the Kenyan Sikh community come together to cremate a grandmother and son who were killed in the attack (EPA)  

It has carried out mass murder outside Somalia in the past, 70 people watching the World Cup final in the Ugandan capital Kampala in 2010. But that was done by suicide bombing and it was not thought that the group had the capability to carry out such a sophisticated mission.

This has led to intelligence officials investigating whether it received significant help from al-Qa'ida to which it has pledged allegiance.

But the question remains how such an elaborate assault was carried out under the radar of the Kenyan and Western intelligence agencies in a city that has become the international aid and diplomatic hub for the region, presenting obvious targets for jihadists.

Locally, say Western officials, this was the result of complacency. Following the entry of Kenyan troops into Somalia's civil war in October 2011, a series of bombings had resulted in 32 deaths, but there had been no major incidents.

Kidnapping of foreign holiday-makers and threatening the lucrative tourist industry, led to increased security precautions on coastal resorts. But measures taken in Nairobi to protect civilians, including on the public transport systems, high-rise blocks, churches and shopping centres, soon began to get lax.

There is little indication that Western agencies knew what was coming. Although there was said to be 'chatter' picked up in electronic surveillance that something was planned it was nothing, it is claimed, conclusive.

Video footage has emerged showing a police officer rescuing a woman and her children who had played dead Video footage has emerged showing a police officer rescuing a woman and her children who had played dead  

Sir Jonathan Evans, the then head of MI5, had warned three years ago that young British Muslims were increasingly switching from Pakistan to Somalia to receive training for jihad. Since then a number trying to cross from Kenya into Somalia have been turned back, others have been arrested, including Jermaine Grant who faces charges of possession of explosives intended for bombings in Mombasa, as was another man subsequently charged with murder in the UK. Habib Ghani, a UK citizen from Hounslow in west London, is reported to have been shot dead along with Omar Hammami, an American from Alabama with a Syrian mother, in an al-Shabaab internal feud earlier this month.

The focus, however, is very much on Samantha Lewthwaite, the 29 year old 'White Widow' whose husband, Jermaine Lindsay, was one of the 7/7 bombers wanted in Kenya for alleged terror offences. A number of survivors of the massacre recall a female terrorist in the group issuing orders. The Kenyan government has given contradictory accounts on whether one of the participants was a woman.

Security officials say there is no evidence yet that Lewthwaite was involved. "She has successfully been in hiding and she is a propaganda tool for the Islamists while she remains free. Why should they sacrifice her in a mission where there was always the chance of getting killed or captured?" Asked one. "Also, as far as we know, she has no combat experience, so hardly in position to give tactical orders."

US officials stated that they were "aggressively investigating" the attack and claims of involvement by a large number of American citizens. But they acknowledged that despite Congressional hearings into mosques recruiting for jihad in Somalia and stepping up of scrutiny there had been no foreknowledge of what unfolded.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea