Kenyan security officials tell AFP several countries, including Israel, had warned Nairobi authorities of imminent terror threat just days before deadly attack on Westgate mall • Israeli, U.S. and European forensic experts actively involved in probe.
Kenya’s government had been warned, including by Israel, that Islamist gunmen posed a threat to a high-profile target in Nairobi just days before the attack on Westgate mall, security sources in the Kenyan capital told Agence France-Presse on Saturday.
Last week’s attack on the upscale Westgate shopping center, which evolved into a four-day hostage crisis and subsequent military siege on the mall leaving 67 people dead, was claimed by the al-Qaida-linked Somali terror group al-Shabab.
Five of the mall attackers were killed and Kenyan authorities said they are holding eight people over the raid.
According to AFP, Kenyan cabinet ministers, as well as the country’s army chief had received information warning them of a plan to carry out a major attack. Reports that authorities had been warned were splashed across Kenyan newspapers over the weekend.
“Israel had warned of attacks on their business interests but apart from just being tossed from one office to another, nothing was taken out of the intelligence reports,” said one official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Kenya’s The Nation newspaper said the treasury, interior, foreign affairs and defense ministers, as well as the army chief, had been told of an elevated risk.
“Briefs were made to them of increasing threat of terrorism and of plans to launch simultaneous attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa around September 13 and 20, 2013,” the paper quoted a Nairobi official as saying.
The Nation said that Israel, which has close security ties with Kenya, had warned local authorities of plans to attack Israeli interests in September, in proximity to the High Holidays. The Westgate mall is partially owned by Israelis and had long been considered a prime potential target, the report said.
“The Israeli Embassy in Nairobi has raised concern with the foreign affairs ministry that Iran and Hezbollah from Lebanon have been collecting operational intelligence and open interests in Israeli and Jewish targets around the world including Kenya,” the paper said.
According to security sources, Israeli forensic experts are actively involved in the ongoing investigation into the attack, as are U.S. and European forensic experts.
Security officials said Kenya’s security agencies were casual in their response to the warnings given to them: “There is no way one can say there was no intelligence on this attack because those reports started trickling in from late last year. And they were specific with targets including Westgate,” one of them told AFP.
“Whenever these reports come, they are shared all across the government with relevant authorities at high levels, but they still take them casually.”
Kenya is “at war” with Islamist militants who attacked a Nairobi shopping mall, the government said on Saturday, as it faced questions about whether it had received advance intelligence warnings of the deadly strike.
Three Kenyan newspapers reported on Saturday that the country’s National Intelligence Service had been warned — as far back as a year ago — of the presence of suspected al-Shabab militants in Nairobi and that they were planning to carry out “suicide attacks” on the Westgate mall and on a church in the city.
The Nation, Standard and Star newspapers questioned whether the Kenyan government and military may have failed to act on this and more recent warnings this year by local and foreign intelligence services.
“It is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer,” Mutea Iringo, principal secretary in the Ministry of Interior, told Reuters.
“Every day, we get intelligence and action is taken as per that intelligence and many attacks averted. But the fact that you get the intelligence does not mean something cannot happen,” he said.
“What we are saying is that we are at war, and that every day some young Kenyan is being radicalized by al-Shabab to kill Kenyans,” Iringo said, calling on citizens across the east African nation to be alert and cooperate with authorities.