Kenyan politicians are to quiz senior security officials in a bid to identify alleged intelligence failings following the Westgate attack amid reports that the security services had at least twice warned the government of an attack on the upscale shopping mall months earlier.
Lawmakers are scrambling to apportion blame for failure to anticipate the audacious terror attack carried out by Islamist militants from Somalia’s al-Shabaab group that killed at least 67 people, and left the East African country reeling.
Politicians visited Westgate for the first time today where searchers are still sifting through the rubble for bodies after Kenyan forces demolished part of the complex to bring the four-day siege to an end, potentially trapping hostages underneath.
A British man questioned over the attack has been released without charge, the Foreign Office has said. The police became suspicious about bruising on his face, and detained him at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta Airport last week.
Officials have dismissed suggestions that dozens of bodies could still be buried in the rubble, saying that everyone has been accounted for. Kenya’s Red Cross said today that 39 people are still listed as missing, down from the figure of 60 it released last Friday.
The investigation by politicians comes as Kenyans heap scorn on the response to the attacks following an overwhelming show of unity in the early days of the siege. Ministers have been accused of releasing inaccurate information during the siege, and of attempting to mislead the public over the actual number of dead.
“We want to promise you that as parliament we will investigate, establish and see whether the people who were directly in charge of our security slept on their jobs,” said Asman Kamama, head of the committee.
Michael Gichangi, head of the country’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), is expected to receive a particularly rigorous cross-examination amid perceived intelligence gaps. He will be the first to appear in front of the committee later this week.
But he is expected to refute suggestions that the authorities were not warned of the attack.
According to a leaked intelligence dossier, the NIS issued a report last September stating that suicide bombers were planning to launch attacks on Westgate mall and the Holy Family Basilica, a Nairobi church.
Details of the report – said to be 8,800 pages long – leaked to the Kenyan media reveal a surprising level of detail about the identity of the suspected attackers, where they are thought to live, their suppliers, as well as the weaponry they are said to have obtained.
Most intriguingly, the report states that the NIS warned of a terror attack between September 13 and 20. The file also claimed that the Israeli Embassy in Nairobi had warned of an attack during the Jewish holidays from Sep 4 to Sep 28, although Hezbollah and Iran were suspected rather than al-Shabaab. The Westgate mall is at least part Israeli-owned.
The dossier, which is unsigned and unaddressed, but appears to have been written for the attention of the security apparatus, provides the clearest indication yet that senior officials knew of the terror threats, including the interior minister, defence chief and the president’s office, and apparently failed to act on them.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku refused to be drawn on the issue at the weekend, saying only that intelligence matters must remain confidential.
Much of Kenyans’ ire, particularly on social media, has been directed at Mr Ole Lenku, who angered many by insensitively claiming an “insignificant” number of people were trapped under the rubble at the mall.
A former hotelier, he was parachuted into the sensitive role without any apparent experience in security. During briefings to the media, he appeared out of his depth when suggesting that Kenyan forces were in control at Westgate when the sound of loud explosions and gunfire suggested otherwise.
Eight people are still being held on suspicion of involvement in the terror attack, the worst on Kenyan soil since the US Embassy bombings in 1998 that killed over 200. Al-Shabab said the attack was retaliation for Kenya’s military incursion into Somalia in 2011 aimed at crushing the militant group.
Lawmakers hinted the Somali refugee community in Kenya could pay the price for Westgate, saying that the refugee camps, which hold some half a million Somalis, were a breeding ground for Somali terror.