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Third anniversary of Kenya mall attacks: Threat still looms large

West Gate Mall attacks in Nairobi, Kenya took 67 innocent lives and injured hundreds. Photograph: (Others)

WION Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Sep 21, 2016, 08.04 AM (IST) Shantanu Mukharji

September 21 marks the third anniversary of the West Gate Mall attacks in Nairobi, Kenya which took 67 innocent lives and injured hundreds. One of the worst terrors attacks in sub-Saharan Africa, the Kenyan mall attack continues to haunt security experts world over as to the reason of its occurrence and the aftermath . 

The handiwork of the dreaded Islamic terror outfit, Al-Shabab, the September 21 attacks on the Mall exposed the chink in the armour of the Kenyan establishment; it was shaken by the blitzkrieg with practically no intelligence inputs, human or technological, which could have alerted the authorities and prevented the killings. In sum, glaring intelligence failure remains the single most crucial reason that caused this mayhem, which could have been otherwise easily avoided.

Somalia-based Al Shabab had been consistently issuing warnings that it would target Kenyan facilities. The group was ruffled as a coordinated military action - known as Operation Linda Nichi - was being conducted through 2011-2012 in Southern Somalia against Al Shabab. It was a joint action between the Somalian and the Kenyan defence forces. Al-Shabab, buoyant with their repeated success in the Indian Ocean in extorting huge ransoms through piracy, was an unchallenged Islamic terror group in the region. 

Armed to the teeth with sophisticated weapons and training, it was very affluent and enjoyed a close functional nexus with AQAP( Al Qaeda Arab Peninsula). The only other Islamic terror group that was a force to reckon with was Boko Haram, which had confined its ferocious activities on mainland Nigeria. Al-Shabab, on the other hand, had its reach much beyond the sea and land frontiers. It came to notice repeatedly for wreaking havoc through its terror misadventures. Al-Shabab, all along, nurtured a desire to avenge by inflicting a terror blow on Kenya for the latter's decision to collaborate with the Somalian military.  

Other than the intelligence failure in the West Gate mall attacks, the Kenyan anti-terror intervention teams did not rise to the occasion either. The Mall  was under siege, with the entire operation lasting 80 hours. The hostage crisis prolonged as if with no ending. 

Evidently, the British, the Americans and the Israeli intelligence, as well as security teams were brought in to bring the situation under control. Yet, the utter confusion that prevailed amid a lack of coordination allowed the perpetrators a field day. President Kenyatta of Kenya admitted that the operation got bungled. 

The mismanagement threw up several lessons for the security analysts to ponder about stepped-up intelligence and effective counter-terror measure to deal with such scenes. As regards intelligence, a more proactive collaboration with western agencies is needed. The counter-terror teams must also be on its toes with the latest training to address the crisis. 

Today, is three years of  the Nairobi incident. It seems Al-Shabab have lost its fangs after the piracy menace waned. Still, they are in the region: alive and kicking. According to the last available data, the northeast province of Kenya has 2,310, 757 Somali residents. Their main pockets are Ogaden, Gurreh, Murale, Ajuran and Degodia. All these Somalis are not terrorists but some of them may have the potential to vent their frustration in the form of a lethal menace. Authorities need to be vigilant. 

Kenya apart, many African nations remain vulnerable from terror attacks. Mauritania, Mali, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, among others, in northern and north-western Africa look quiet, but a storm seems to be on the horizon. On the eastern flank, Uganda and Tanzania are susceptible to terror acts. On his last visit to India, the Tanzanian president confided to the Indian side about Islamic fanatics attempting to make inroads into Tanzania. Hence an overall look at the African terror scene has to be undertaken. Though not on the map of the African continent, Mauritius also has to be eyed upon amid reports of some radicalisation with some radicals joining the IS in Syria. 

In conclusion, the keyword is maximum alert to foil any West Gate Mall type attacks, ensuring an overall environ of safety and security.

Shantanu Mukharji

The writer is a retired IPS officer and a Bangladesh watcher. He was also posted in Dhaka to oversee Indian security concerns.

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