Security chiefs ignored intelligence on Garissa attack

Almost a month after al-Shabaab Islamist militants stormed Garissa University College and killed 148 people, Kenya’s government has admitted that there was actionable intelligence that the college would be attacked – but security chiefs ignored the threat.

There is public outrage over lack of action that could have saved the lives of the 142 students who were massacred on 2 April.

Briefing parliament’s committee on administration and national security on 30 April, Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery for the first time admitted that police and other security chiefs in Garissa County had disregarded credible intelligence about the raid.

“We have since interdicted and replaced them and we are now carrying out investigations to establish whether there was any criminal liability before taking further action,” said Nkaissery, who is Kenya’s cabinet secretary in charge of security affairs.

He also admitted that the response to the attack was slow and poorly coordinated, and that the terrorists had outgunned military special units in Garissa. “Two al-Shabaab gunmen at either side of the hostel used machine guns to repel military personnel who wanted to storm the building.”

According to Nkaissery, the structural design of the campus also hampered the rescue mission, as all the windows of the hostels had metal grills. “They were like prison cells and had barred students from jumping through the windows.”

He observed that most of the students killed could have been rescued had security been able to access the hostel building where they were cornered by terrorists on the morning of 2 April. “Unfortunately, no one could have gone there as a result of machine gun fire.”

Commissioner held responsible

At the epicentre of the security lapse in Garissa is Njenga Miiri, the county commissioner who has already been interdicted with six other senior police officers.

Miiri was Lamu county commissioner when al-Shabaab carried out an attack on a small town in the Mpeketoni area and killed 60 people including a police officer on 15 June last year. Thereafter, Miiri was transferred to Garissa.

Commenting on the issue, Francis Mwangangi, a member of the parliamentary committee on administration and national security, said he was worried that the government had simply transferred a problem to another area.

“In both cases actionable intelligence was ignored,” said Mwangangi during the hearing last Thursday.

Taking into account that the attack occurred at dawn, Nkaissery was hard pressed to explain why it took some 12 hours before security forces retook the college from the terrorists.

He did say, though, that there were plans under way to provide counties bordering Somalia – home of the al-Shabaab group – with helicopters and other security assets to fight the militants.

Fuelling religious conflict?

During the parliamentary committee session, members differed sharply on the reasons why al-Shabaab spared Muslims during terror attacks.

Committee chair Asman Kamama said al-Shabaab was also killing Muslims – but this was rejected by other committee members Ababu Namwamba, George Theuri, Zakayo Cheruiyot and Mwangangi.

During the Garissa attack, the terrorists singled out Christian students and killed them while their Muslim counterparts were spared. Commenting on the issue, Namwamba asked the government to find out whether al-Shabaab was in the process of fuelling religious conflict.

Amid efforts to cool temperatures during the session, Nkaissery said that after the Garissa massacre the government had appointed a committee of experts to study the psychology behind the attack on non-Muslims by al-Shabaab, which is affiliated to al-Qaeda.

“I do not understand the mentality of terrorists and we have formed a team of experts that will look into the issue and give a report,” said Nkaissery. The team is also expected to propose courses of action for the government.