Kenyan police acknowledged on Thursday that they had learned from their past “errors” as the country observed the 10th anniversary of a brutal siege at an upscale shopping center in Nairobi’s capital.
During the attack, 67 individuals lost their lives, and over 200 were injured when gunmen affiliated with Somalia’s Al-Shabaab extremist organization stormed the Westgate mall, firing bullets and throwing grenades at terrified shoppers. This incident was among the deadliest in a series of assaults in Kenya, prompting the country to send troops into Somalia in 2011 to support the fight against the Al-Qaeda-linked group, which had been conducting an insurgency against the central government in Mogadishu for several years.
However, Kenyan security forces faced criticism for their handling of the Westgate tragedy, with reports of initial response chaos and confusion, as well as allegations of soldiers looting stores while combating the Islamist militants. In a statement released on the anniversary, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations characterized the attack as a “well-coordinated massacre that detectives later uncovered had been meticulously planned for months.”
“Based on our response following the attack, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations learnt from its mistakes and has since then put in place mitigating measures to ensure that such an attack does not occur,” the DCI said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
It noted, for example, that communications between Al-Shabaab militants and contacts in Kenya went undetected because of “lax procedures”.
The siege began around midday on September 21, 2013 as the mall was teeming with shoppers and was officially declared over by the government 80 hours later.
Al-Shabaab said the attack was in retaliation for Nairobi’s military intervention in Somalia and has continued to carry out cross-border assaults.
Two years after Westgate, Al-Shabaab fighters attacked Garissa University in eastern Kenya, killing 148 people, almost all of them students.
It was the second most deadly attack in Kenya’s history, surpassed only by Al-Qaeda’s bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998 that killed 213 people.
In 2019, Al-Shabaab gunmen killed 21 people at the upscale Dusit hotel complex in Nairobi.
This year, there has been a spate of sometimes deadly assaults on civilians and security forces in regions of Kenya that border Somalia, as the government in Mogadishu wages an offensive against Al-Shabaab on home soil.
But a senior Kenyan interior ministry official said progress was being made in efforts to thwart attacks.
“Our end goal is to sustain the highest level of surveillance along our borders and covert/overt security operations across the country, and neutralise the enemy before he strikes,” Raymond Omollo said in a statement.
“This approach has yielded tremendous results in terms of the number of foiled terror attacks targeted at us.”
In October 2020, two men found guilty of conspiring with the Westgate attackers were sentenced to 33 and 18 years.
The government said the four gunmen who carried out the attack were found dead in the rubble at the mall.
Meanwhile, the United States has announced a reward of up to $5 million for information on Abdullahi Osman Mohamed, described as the senior explosives expert for Al-Shabaab.
Engineer Ismail, as he is also known, is also the leader of the group’s media arm Al-Kataib, and a special adviser to Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Diriye, the US State Department said.