Nairobi: Gunmen had local help, weapons were stashed in mall
Meticulous planning, local collusion involved in the attack, internal battles within Al Shabab and the Al Qaeda leadership led to biggest ever attack by Al Shabab
In his address to the nation at the end of the four-day siege at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta reiterated reports suggesting that a British woman and two or three American citizens may have been involved in the attack, but could not give any further details.
As world focus shifts slowly to investigating how the daring attack was planned and executed, the New York Times reported on Tuesday that American security officials were awaiting surveillance camera footage and DNA tests in order to confirm the identities of the terrorists.
The report said there was evidence of meticulous planning before the massacre, including collusion of one or more mall staffers suspected of having aided in storing weapons in the mall prior to the attack.
“American officials said the militants must have had a back office in Kenya, a safe house to finalize their plot and store their guns. Witnesses said several militants had toted G3 assault rifles, a bulky weapon that Kenyan security services use. Intelligence analysts say this may mean the militants acquired their weapons from corrupt Kenyan officers, who are known to sell or rent out their guns, charging as little as a few dollars an hour,” said the New York Times report.
Belt-fed machine guns, called crew-served weapons requiring more than one person to be operated or carried, including medium and heavy machine guns, would have to have been stashed away inside the mall beforehand, the report quotes security officials as saying. Armed force personnel who fought the terrorists inside the mall were taken by surprise by these crew-served weapons.
In the absence of any clear information on the exact number of attackers who stormed the mall and how many died, there is also the possibility that some fighters slipped out of the mall in the chaos, dressed as civilians. At least one terrorist had packed a spare set of clothes, the New York Times report said.
Once inside the mall, Kenyan officials told CNN, the gunmen did not seem interested in taking hostages. "They were not interested in hostage-taking. They only wanted to kill", the report quoted one unnamed official as saying.
"We wanted to negotiate. They were not responding," said the Kenyan official. "They didn't even respond."
US and Kenyan investigators would also be looking carefully at the al-Shabab’s gradual merger with the al-Qaeda and the global jihadist movement, the latter’s style and statement clearly reflected in the Nairobi attack.
In fact, the internecine rivalries in the Al Shabab could have played a key role in attack, said reports.
An Associated Press report also points to the power struggles within the al-Shabab, leading to the killings of top commanders in recent months.
“Because of that internal discord, analysts say the Al Qaeda-linked group is now led by hard-liners who are dedicated to global jihad and are putting the region on notice that it could see other similarly spectacular assaults,” the report says.
Quoting Natznet Tesfay, head of IHS business intelligence group’s Africa risk team, the AP report says the group has been campaigning to stay relevant after power struggles that ended with street gunbattles in Somalia.
“It was fueled, in part, by ideological differences between those who oppose any international intervention in Somalia and want the focus to remain on that internal battle, and those jihadists who believe in a wider conflict linked to al-Qaida's more global agenda,” the report says.
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