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Too many questions linger over terrorist attack on Westgate

By - | Updated Thu, September 26th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3

As the country continues to mourn its dead following the end of the four-day siege by Al-Shabaab terrorists on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, the hope is that the top leadership will play its part by quickly setting in motion investigations that will lead to a better public understanding of exactly how the tragedy was allowed to play out and grip local and international attention.

Reports that the police force, particularly the National Intelligence Service (NIS), received credible intelligence of impending terrorist attacks but failed to act in time to prevent the Westgate Mall massacre of innocent lives is particularly disturbing. The fact that the terror group struck one of the targets mentioned by the local informants as well as the Israeli intelligence authorities, among others, is a shocking commentary on the police ability to detect and prevent crime that is inexcusable.

It is not good enough for the grieving country to be told that many similar planned attacks have been detected and nipped in the bud. After all, that is their job and it explains why the public hardly questions the billions of shillings these Intelligence agencies spend every year.

Not too long ago, Kenya’s entire police force including the once elite Criminal Investigations Department, was ranked among the best in the world. Indeed, it was not unusual for foreign countries to send their high-ranking officers to train in Kenya in the same way they send their top military officers to train in the local military colleges. But that was then.

Regrettably, those high standards were allowed to deteriorate over time. Since the police are the gatekeepers for the rest of the public service and society, standards for other government departments went into a free fall.

As the latest assault makes clear, the Immigration department has a lot of ground to cover in clearing its reputation. It has to explain, at the very least, how more than a dozen foreign terrorists and their war materiel sneaked into the country without their knowledge.

Obviously, the recent return of drug lords from West Africa after they were deported undermines their credibility even further.

Worse, it underlines the level to which the department’s integrity, and that of the police, has been compromised by corruption.

That means the war against terrorism has to be fought in tandem with the one on drug trafficking for, at various levels, they become one. The officers who turn a blind eye to the one have no compunction about doing the same to the other. To get a grip on who knew what, when and what was done with the information that still allowed the terrorists to get into the country, it may be necessary to bring in foreign investigators because it would be wishful thinking to expect the police force to investigate itself without bias.

Some of the countries have already sent their experts to assist in gathering forensic evidence at the Westgate Mall.

These countries may be only too willing to lend their best people to help in the forensic probe of the local Intelligence agencies and the training of the top officers who will be culled from the existing members.

Given the fact that Kenya does not have any intention of succumbing to the terrorists’ blackmail and recall its troops from Somalia until their job is done, the bottom-line is that the country must move quickly to repair the security breeches that allowed the Westgate Mall massacre to happen.

That is the only assurance that it will not happen again.


 

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