Kenyan police actions since Westgate attack raise red flags

Kenya's police were caught on video looting the Westgate mall after the attack, and they are suspected of the extra-judicial killing a man with links to Al Shabab.

Jonathan Kalan/AP
Armed police leave after entering the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 after gunmen threw grenades and opened fire in a terrorist attack.

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The September terrorist attack that killed at least 67 people at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, has illuminated how unprepared that country was for a siege of its magnitude.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is new to such high-level political positions, little chatter was intercepted before the attack, and security guards at the mall were revealed to be low paid and under-trained.

Even more serious problems are reported by The New York Times:

Police officers and soldiers could not communicate with each other — their radios were on different frequencies, Kenyan officials said. Rescuers did not have blueprints for several hours, relying instead on printouts of rough floor plans from the Westgate Web site — that is, when it had not crashed as people around the world overloaded the site.

Some of Kenya’s best soldiers needed to be flown in from Somalia, and few, if any, of the forces at the mall had night-vision goggles, limiting night operations and giving militants time to regroup and possibly kill more people trapped inside, said several officials briefed on the response.

The Los Angeles Times reports that closed circuit video has revealed a shocking timeline for the looting that Kenyan soldiers are alleged to have committed at the mall, as well:

Kenyan media have reported that soldiers began stealing almost as soon as they arrived on the scene shortly after the attack began, with assailants and some victims still inside.

The looting has outraged many Kenyans and embarrassed the military chiefs, who met Thursday to discuss the scandal.

As the retrospective analysis continues, DNA testing is underway to determine the identities of as many as 39 more victims, and the shaken expat community is attempting to put the attack in context, reports the Monitor:

“How can any of us sit in any of these shopping centers any more and not think that it can happen again,” asks Bridget Allison, a British media producer who has lived in Nairobi for close to a decade.

“My friends in the UK used to look on my life in Kenya with envy, but now they’re looking at me like I’m mad to want to live here, and that if you do, you’re being very selfish to put your family in these kinds of risks,” she says.

Troubling allegations about an extra-judicial response by the government are now surfacing. In Kenya last August, the highway-side killing of alleged Al Shabab representative Aboud Rogo Mohammed touched off riots in the city of Mombasa. In the wake of the mall attack, that incident has found a grim echo – gunmen have shot dead Ibrahim "Rogo" Omar and three other people, reports the BBC.

Mr. Rogo was alleged to have links with Al Shabab and some Muslims accused the Kenyan security forces of killing him – an allegation they strongly denied.
Mr. Omar is seen as the successor to Mr. Rogo, as he preached at the same mosque – and after his death Mr. Omar was given the nickname Rogo.

Both killings are worrisome for those invested in the stability of Kenya: The perception that police are linked to these murders has the potential to provoke an ever-escalating Algerian Civil War-style cycle of terrorism and extra-judicial police response.

A list of those invested in the stability of Kenya looks like a list of most European nations and the United States. A European national (a German formerly named Andreas Martin Mueller, now Ahmed Khaled Mueller, who has been on the run for more than a year) and a British woman nicknamed "The White Widow" have been linked to the attack. Attackers recruited from the United States have also been connected to the incident, as the Monitor reported:

On Monday, Al Shabab claimed via Twitter that three of the attackers were America-based, with two of them coming from Minnesota, whose Twin City area has one of the largest Somali communities in the United States, with more than 80,000 people.

The Minnesotans are said to be Ahmed Mohammed Isse of St. Paul and Abdifatah Osman Keenadiid of Minneapolis. Another attacker is Mustafe Noorudiin of Kansas. The militants also supposedly include members from Canada, Finland, and Britain. Early eyewitness accounts of the militants by Kenyans suggest they are mostly of ethnic Somali descent. 

And one of the most prominent victims of the attack wasn't Kenyan – he was Kofi Awoonor, a renowned poet from Ghana.

The link to Somalia is strong and key to understanding the attack. The BBC referred to the two nations as "blood brothers." Kenyan forces fighting Al Shabab in Somalia are an integral part of the East African conflict between Islamic militants and secular governments, and as long as that tension remains, more attacks and counterattacks could follow.

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