Sunday, September 29, 2013

What happened at Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya? (The first coherent narrative I have seen . . .courtesy UK Telegraph )

I confess, I have not been obsessively following events in Kenya, no more than the bombings and attacks against Christians in Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Egypt by similar Islamist extremists of various stripes. I just know that some awful things are going on that we had better be at least generally aware of.

However, I did notice how disparate the equipment and apparent behaviours of the responders seemed to be from the various photos. 

That has turned out to be a clue to what happened -- it seems, a chaos of uncoordinated responses that led to a friendly fire incident that seems to have cost a senior police officer his life, then led to a withdrawal from the Mall as a result, when at least a major group of the terrorists had been cornered. This probably was a major cause of the prolonged siege.

First, an overhead sat shot courtesy BBC:

Satellite overview of Westgate Mall, Kenya (BBC)

 The London Telegraph has a 10:00PM BST 28 Sep 2013 story that seems reasonably researched and coherent. The first such I have seen -- there is entirely too much human interest stuff in most reporting and it is hard to get an overall understanding from pictures. But, if we are to learn lessons we need a who, what, where, when, how timelined account.

It has emerged that:
- Armed private security agents and elite Kenyan police cornered the terrorists early on, but were forced to pull out in the confusion of a separate army assault
- Spies warned of a specific attack on the mall a year ago
- The attackers may have tried to flee via a services tunnel leading to a culvert in a nearby river . . . . 
[A year ago in Somalia] al-Shabaab, a Somali group linked to al-Qaeda, assembled a squad of international volunteers and provided them with detailed plans of the Westgate mall, possibly from blueprints acquired by colluders in Kenya. The team staged rehearsals and sourced weapons, while radical imams gave blessings for the attack. 

According to Kenyan security sources, the terrorists rented a nondescript apartment opposite Westgate and began a surveillance operation . . . .[Then on Sat. Sept 21 at lunch time] The attackers — between 10 and 15 of them — came in three waves. The first leapt from a silver saloon car and began spraying bullets along the front of the mall, where there is a smart outdoor cafĂ©. The second group headed on foot for the basement car park. A third party drove a vehicle up the ramp at the side of the building, onto the rooftop car park, and right into the Junior Super Chef competition. 
When the attackers began separating out Muslims to spare them from the massacre that ensued, it was evident that this was not just armed robbery but terrorism. 

[NB: there are other reports of terrorists setting up a shop inside the Mall, so a group from inside is possible.]

The first armed responders to reach were "a small team of Kenyan-Indians from a local plain-clothes unit that acts as a kind of armed neighbourhood watch for the large local Asian community." 

They acted with armed Kenyan police, and helped hundreds escape before jointly cornering the terrorists into a corner on the ground floor near the supermarket. But unfortunately, after a four hour preparation . . . the delay being instructive, the Army launched an uncoordinated assault from top and ground floor, evidently not fully realising that there were other responders present in plain clothes. A friendly fire incident resulted and both groups of responders withdrew after a half hour. 

The terrorists took advantage to resume attacks against unarmed civilians. 

I suspect this would probably be when much of the reported mutilation and torture of hostages occurred. Clipping the UK Independent:

A police doctor scouring Nairobi’s Westgate mall for bodies after a four-day siege by Islamist gunmen that claimed dozens of lives has said victims were tortured before they died, according to a Kenyan newspaper.
“Those are not allegations. Those are [censored . . . ] truths,” the doctor, a forensics expert, told The Star newspaper. “They removed balls, eyes, ears, nose. They get your hand and sharpen it like a pencil then they tell you to write your name with the blood. They drive knives inside a child’s body. Actually, if you look at all the bodies, unless those ones that were escaping, fingers are cut by pliers, the noses are ripped by pliers.”
Horrific, and sadly consistent with what happened to hostages in Mumbai, India.

By dawn on Sunday, a widened security perimeter was set up. Between Monday and Tuesday, repeated army attempts to break back in were frustrated by a terrorist sniper on a balcony. 

It seems international advisors were not heeded. 

It seems that Monday evening, on the assumption that no hostages were left alive, an all up assault was launched. It seems the collapsed car park came from this as a support column was taken down with rocket propelled grenades.

By Tuesday evening, it was effectively over.

Though, it is feared that some attackers slipped out with escaping hostages.

So the first obvious lesson is inadequate security and the second is uncoordinated, late response.  We need to make sure coordinated command and communication are set up early on. Security groups should have a common frequency coordinated by mobile reserve police and hosted by Police High Command. The army should patch into that. And someone in the police unit should be tasked with an every five minutes update on a developing situation. If that worked for the Battle of Britain, it should still be valid.

Lessons all around, which we had better all heed. END