Officers in action at DusitD2 [Photo: Courtesy]

The CEO of dusitD2 hotel was armed. He was hiding behind a steel door with a big kitchen knife on the fifth foor of the hotel, located at the 14 Riverside Drive complex when help came.

But the rescuers, members of Kenya’s elite security forces, could not open the door. They waited for tools as the CEO cowered inside with about 30 staff members when the agents heard mumbling inside.

The CEO was not convinced the rescuers were not terrorists and demanded they show themselves by the window “to confirm.”

That was when he opened the door for their evacuation, following the terror attack on 14 Riverside Drive in Nairobi which was executed by Kenyan Somalis, The Nairobian can reveal. Highly placed security sources also intimated that the terror strike could have been prevented had authorities taken intelligence reports issued two months ago seriously.

A terrorist alert was sent out on October 25, 2018 to the effect that an attack was being planned in Nairobi.

But due to the tight security, including the manning of roads by traffic police, the attackers postponed their operation for January, a month when security agents tend to lower their guard after a busy schedule during the festive season. But when the alert was issued in October last year, it was reportedly dismissed as fake by the big wigs in police.

The signal warned of an imminent attack within the Central Business District. The signal was sent to the Flying Squad unit and all Directorate of Criminal Investigation officers in the city.

Inayat Kassam and fellow responder at the complex [Photo: Beverlyne Musili]

Our highly-placed source, without elaborating, indicated that indeed an alert was indeed issued after almost three years free of terror attacks.

“The alert was there as usual, but we prefer to keep such information under wraps to lessen panic. Yes, we have been hit, it was one of those bad days…it happens all over the world. Remember we are coming from the festive period when officers scaled up security.

Certainly there is a likelihood of them dropping their guard as some take time to rest,” observed the source. The signal indicated that six al-Shabaab operatives led by Ahmed Harith Mahmoud were planning to hit Times Towers and the National Treasury buildings between October 28, 2018 and November 4, 2018.

 “Harith is an associate and logistician of Ahmed Iman Ali alias ‘Engineer,’” the signal indicated. Harith’s five associates – four men and one woman, were said to be living in Umoja and Kariobangi. The terrorists, however, changed target locations to confuse authorities. But in Kenya, as in Somalia, the al-Shabaab prefer attacking restaurants and hotels, and uses locals for logistical support. 

All the six men who attacked 14 Riverside Drive housing the dusitD2 hotel were fell by police marksmen from the elite GSU Recce Company. Law enforcers said all of them were Kenyans radicalised by al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility. “They are Kenyans who joined al-Shabaab and I will not be surprised if they are university graduates,” said a senior officer.

GSU officers [Photo: Beverlyne Musili]

Their identities were not released immediately because security agents were keen on establishing their other associates.

“We have their details, but it will be improper to release the information because we risk collapsing the network by doing so,” added the officer. One of the slain terrorists lived at Muchatha in Ruaka.

Some of the neighbour’s identified him as Ali Salim, but it was not immediately clear if that was his real name or an alias. He used to stay with a woman who was usually in a buibui, having moved into the house on March 21, 2018.

A police officer who was part of the operation at the complex revealed that the explosives, guns and bullets the terrorist were using are not the kind found in Kenya. He said the weapons are popular with ISIS, a militant group with ties to al-Shabaab.

“Those guns and bullets are not the type we use in Kenya,” said the offi cer, pointing to the possibility that the weapons might have been smuggled into Kenya.

The lapse in security, leading to the attack which left at least 21  people dead, among them four one Briton and an American, brought back memories of the September 21, 2013 attack when a similar attack was carried out at Westgate mall.

Four masked men stormed the mall indiscriminately started shooting before staging a four-day siege, resulting in 67 deaths.

Security guards who attempted to stop them were overpowered commando style, the same modus operandi at 14 Riverside Drive, reopening debate on the need to arm guards.

Rescued woman being led away by officers  [Photo: Beverlyne Musili]

The terror attack has resurrected debate whether the return of police reservists in major towns could have prevented the attack amidst calls by security guards to be issued with ?rearms. 

During their heyday before then Commissioner of Police Maj Gen Mohammed Hussein Ali chased them out of town, the Kenya Police Reserve (KPR) proved vital in some of the security operations in the city, amid accusations of some of them becoming law unto themselves.

The reservists gathered intelligence, and is some cases were aware of pending criminal activities. Many business establishments around the city preferred having them around their buildings, with the reservists conducting stakeouts and often averting crimes.

When Maj Gen Ali disbanded the reservists unit in 2004, it had about 200 members spread out in all corners of the city. The reservists were accused of being corrupt and trigger happy.

The police boss promised to reconstitute and restructure the unit, but that never came to pass. The reservists received some sort of training that lasted for three months. Most of them were volunteers who had jobs and other commitments during ordinary working hours. Their participation in crime was basically in the evenings.

Isaac Andabwa, the secretary general of the Kenya National Private Security Workers’ Union (KNPSWU), says the attack could either have been thwarted or the damage lessened had the guards been armed. “We need guards to be armed. I have been persistent on the need to allow them carry guns, but those in authority conveniently ignore this matter. It is no longer safe to be manning a sensitive building with a just rungu,” complained Andabwa.

He says that if guards are mandated to work with police, sharing of information and intelligence will improve surveillance. “It appears the terrorists spent time conducting reconnaissance of the complex. A motivated guard equipped with the right knowledge can be able to notice something unusual,” argues Andabwa.