Kenya

Why security agencies delayed final assault on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall attackers

Soldiers arrive at the Westgate Shopping Mall. [PHOTO: STANDARD]

By CYRUS OMBATI

NAIROBI; KENYA: Fears that the terrorists could have booby-trapped the Westgate Shopping Mall were cited as one of the reasons why the final assault on the attackers was delayed.

Sources told The Standard security forces wanted to ensure the gunmen had not rigged the building with explosives, before making any move.

It emerged that in a hostage situation like the siege at the shopping centre, it is sometimes prudent to prolong the standoff as one way of wearing down the assailants.

Other factors that slowed down the assault, The Standard established, is the shooting and killing of at least two security officers in the early stages of the operation.

Security forces carrying out the operation were also not sure where the gunmen were hiding on the first, ground and basement floors.

This was after they had been pushed from the upper floors.

At least seven security officers from both the Kenya Defence Forces and the special police forces were injured during the assault as they took on the attackers whose number is estimated at between 10 and 15.

The latest officer was hit Sunday morning by a sniper as he stepped out of his vehicle.

The incident happened after three people, who had been hiding under cars at the basement parking lot, had been rescued and interrogated by security agents before being released.

1,000 people rescued

Although they looked shocked, they were stable and unhurt.

 Officials said more than 1,000 people had been rescued and an unknown number were still trapped in the building a day later.

The first group of officers were shot on Saturday as they pursued the gunmen, slowing down the exercise.

 “They have bulletproof clothes and are heavily armed,” said an officer, as officials revealed they had intelligence the gang also planned more attacks.

“We have intelligence that they had planted bombs in cars outside the building to cause more death and injuries,” said one security aware of the operation.

This is what prompted the officers to push journalists and other emergency service providers to almost a kilometre away.

There were also reports that the gang wanted to set a fire on the building if and when they were cornered.

On Sunday, fire engines and cranes were put on standby as the security forces readied themselves for the final assault on the hostage takers.

Other sources said a number of security agents from foreign countries, including Israel, were being involved in planning the final assault.

Westgate Shopping Mall is one of several Israeli-owned businesses in Kenya.

The operation has been one of the most elaborate and longest in the country and kept most Kenyans glued to their TV sets for the better part of Saturday and yesterday.

Westgate is a premier complex usually frequented by wealthy locals and expatriates and is busy during weekends.

It is one of the many malls that have come up in Nairobi and the country. The six-year-old shopping centre is located on Mwanzi Road in Westlands, one of Nairobi’s exclusive neighbourhoods.

It is located close to two other popular malls – Sarit Centre and UKay Centre – and competes for the same customers with the Village Market, The Junction, Galleria and Prestige malls, all in Nairobi.

One of the most popular attractions at the shopping centre is the Nakumatt superstore.

The attack comes after two Iranian terror suspects were arraigned in court in July last year on accusations of possessing explosives.

Ahmed Mohamud and Said Mausud had been found with 15 kilogrammes of RDX explosives.

International media quoted the Israeli minister, who said that the two Iranians had planned to attack Israeli, American, British or Saudi targets inside Kenya.

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