Death toll hits 30 after Nairobi shopping mall attack

Interpol have issued an alert for the Briton Samantha Lewthwaite on the requests of the Kenyan government following the recent attack on the Westgate shopping mall in the capital of Nairobi. Meanwhile Kenyan MP’s have summoned all their chiefs of security for questions over the Westgate mall siege with a subsequent internal inquest expected to follow in the days after that.

The British woman Lewthwaite also dubbed as the “White Widow” has been on the records of the Kenyan authorities since late 2011 in connection on charges of being in possession of explosives and firearms. Since then it has been strongly suspected within the country that she has had strong involvement with the Al-Shabaab extremists based in Somalia who have claimed responsibility for the attack. Samantha Lewthwaite who is a UK citizen that has been living in Africa for the last several years sparked huge attention after the 7/7 bombings as being the widow of one of the London Bombers Germaine Lindsay. Lindsay was believed to be an extremist follower of the Al-Shabaab militants, the hard-core Islamist extremist who are largely embedded within Somalia lying right next door to Kenya. She is now known to many in Kenya as the “White Widow” due to her suspected heavy involvement with the Al-Shabaab since moving to the continent.

Since the attack Kenyan officials have moved quickly to report her name to Interpol who have since put her name on alert worldwide. Although it is likely that should Lewthwaite be involved she will remain hidden for the near future any suspected movement on her behalf is now much more likely to be noticed should those in Kenya and the surrounding countries remain vigilant and alert for her presence.

The investigation however is now going well beyond tracking those directly involved in the shooting at the Westgate shopping centre. There has now been some concern shown amongst Kenyan MP’s as to the integrity and solidarity of the security forces given that an armed group such as this seemed to slip through any surveillance largely unnoticed. Kenyan MP’s therefore are calling on all chiefs of security in the Kenyan capital to answer questions on anything they may have known about the attackers prior to the attack on the shopping centre.

According to UK press there is a large blame game going on amongst those in Kenya in the week following the attack with many of the security forces operating in Nairobi and around Kenya pointing the finger at each other. Kenya’s defence committee chairman Ndung’u Gethenji has been reported in Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation as saying that: – “The time for responsibility and accountability has come”. He apparently goes on to suggest a thorough questioning of security forces and their knowledge of the potential threat before the attack.

This inquest seems all the more important in the light of the recent threats from the Al-Shabaab, who are believed to be almost 10,000 fighters strong as of now, that if Kenyan troops did not pull its forces out of Somalia territory as they aid the current Somalia national guard, they would launch an attack on the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Local media also reported that chief of the National Intelligence Service Michael Gichangi who has been asked to appear before the committee for questioning passed on intelligence to officials about a recent plot to attack the Kenyan police forces.

Meanwhile in the week following the siege by Kenyan armed forces ballistics experts and forensics are set to sweep the building for potential booby traps that may have been left by the attackers and for further evidence as to what precisely happened during the attack. This follows a 3-day mourning period announced by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta in remembrance of those lives lost and of those potentially still trapped inside with the Kenya Red Cross reporting that around 61 people are still suspected to be missing inside dead or alive.

What is likely to further worry the Kenyan hierarchy right now is the clear anarchy between the different security forces in the capital that have currently been so quick to blame each other. These weeks following this tragic event are likely to go far beyond simply uncovering the nature of the attack and those directly involved in its planning. The blame game going on between differing security forces is likely to leave Kenyan officials questioning whether there is the potential that an internal undoing in the security system of the country is at the heart of the fact that this attack went largely unrecognised by Kenyan forces in the days and weeks leading up to it. So whilst the Islamist extremists in Somalia claim responsibility for the attack the main question remains in the potential threats across the border within Kenya itself.

BY: ROBERT PRITCHARD