Intelligence failures, weaknesses in anti-terrorism laws, corruption, excesses and rivalry among police and army units, created the conditions for the Nairobi shopping-mall siege to take place, according to a leaked Western security report.
There was a “high degree of likelihood”, it also maintained, that al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamist group behind the siege in the Kenyan capital last month, would carry out attacks in other countries in the region.
Dozens of FBI officers arrived in Kenya following the Westgate siege to help with the investigation. Based on information received from the US administration, Uganda has just raised its threat-alert level for possible attacks.
Although Islamists from abroad may have been involved in planning the attack, Kenyan nationals also have extensive links with al-Shabaab and play key roles in attacks in the country and elsewhere, the assessment says.
The report, seen by The Independent, was compiled by one of the security agencies of a Western power with military presence in the region.
Samantha Lewthwaite, the British jihadist known as the “White Widow”, has been the subject of huge publicity, but intelligence analysts maintain she is of little more than “symbolic” and “propaganda” value to Islamist terrorists. They said there was little credible evidence she has meaningful knowledge or experience of operations.
The analysts noted that there had been several warnings about a possible attack in Nairobi, going back to the beginning of the year. They point out that the Kenyan media had revealed that security forces were at the shopping complex just 24 hours before the assault, but had failed to discover the weapons stashed in a store by the insurgents. The Israeli government had also voiced concern over a possible atrocity during that period, a Jewish holiday, in Kenya, but, the report says, its focus was on the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.
The document states “the current reviews being carried out should show” why the leads were not properly followed up. It adds, however, that “the veracity and provenance of some of the material was of a variable nature” and “confusingly sourced”.
The Kenyan authorities had initially stated that up to a dozen people carried out the Westgate attack, with witnesses claiming a woman was one of them, leading to speculation that it was Lewthwaite, who had been married to Germaine Lindsay, one of those who had carried out the 7/7 London suicide bombings. The analysts who compiled the report say there was no evidence that she was present at the scene.
More recently, some Kenyan officials had changed the number involved in the armed attack to no more than four. Western analysts who compiled the dossier say the figure is too low, and accounts at the time that some of the group fled pretending to be civilians are supported by testimonies as well as other means gathered subsequently.
Foreign jihadists from up to half a dozen countries were said to have been involved in the Westgate attack. This weekend, it was revealed that a Norwegian national born in Somalia, Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, may be one of the two bodies which have been discovered under the collapsed mall.
The report stresses that there has been extensive Kenyan involvement with al-Shabaab, with around 300 of the country’s nationals fighting in the organisation’s ranks. Two Kenyans, Hussein Hassan Agade and Idris Magondu, were involved in suicide bombings of football fans watching the World Cup final on television in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, in 2010.
One of those sought in a failed raid by US Navy Seals in the Somali town of Baraawe following the Westlands siege was Mohamed Abdikadir “Ikrima” Mohamed, a Kenyan who is accused of heading several terrorist plots. “Ikrima” had spent some time in Norway and is believed to have played a part in recruiting from the Somali diaspora in Western Europe.
Heavy-handed actions by Kenyan security forces had driven some young Kenyan Muslims towards militancy, with the issue exploited by Islamists.
Concern about abuse has also stymied the bringing-in of tougher anti-terrorist legislation. A number of prosecutions, including those of extremist preachers, through the courts have failed down the years.
Corruption among mid- and junior-level local officials had enabled militant groups to obtain passports, permits and passes. The dossier states that senior Kenyan officials acknowledge the extent of the problem.
A joint committee of Kenya’s National Assembly has dismissed claims that members of security forces stole money and looted from the mall during the siege after, it said, it had carried out an investigation.
The security forces’ command and control also needed a thorough review in the light of Westgate, the document says. There were problems with communications, it says, and notes complaints made by Kenyan officials of divisive rivalry. One example was the police’s relatively well-trained General Service Unit being sidelined when the army moved in and there was not adequate exchange of information. The analysts accept, however, that such problems among differing agencies have occurred during urban emergencies in a number of states, including those in the West.