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WESTGATE OPERATION WAS BUNGLED - UHURU

Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 00:00 -- BY PAUL ILADO AND KAMORE MAINA
WHAT DO YOU THINK? US ambassador Robert Godec with President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House yesterday.Photo/ PSCU
WHAT DO YOU THINK? US ambassador Robert Godec with President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House yesterday.Photo/ PSCU
The body of Jacktone Onyango Puodi a KDF soldier who was killed in the Westgate mall attack is lowered to rest in Homa Bay on October 6.Photo/Habil Onyango
The body of Jacktone Onyango Puodi a KDF soldier who was killed in the Westgate mall attack is lowered to rest in Homa Bay on October 6.Photo/Habil Onyango
KDF soldiers during the burial their colleague Jacktone Onyango Puodi who was killed by terrosrists at westgate mall attack during his burial in Homa Bay on October 6.Photo/Habil Onyango
KDF soldiers during the burial their colleague Jacktone Onyango Puodi who was killed by terrosrists at westgate mall attack during his burial in Homa Bay on October 6.Photo/Habil Onyango

PRESIDENT Uhuru Kenyatta has admitted that the Westgate operation was bungled. The President made the admission on Sunday afternoon when he visited the police Recce Squad members at their Ruiru base and treated them to lunch.

Uhuru gave Sh500,000 for a feast for all police officers in Nairobi. “The President told us that he knows something went wrong at Westgate but we should not be discouraged from performing our duties,” said a senior Recce squad officer.

Uhuru vowed to constitute a thorough investigation but did not explain or single out who in his view messed up the operation.

Today Cabinet is expected to approve the setting up of a Westgate commission of inquiry. More than 60 people were confirmed dead in the attack.

The commission will have three members, two assisting counsel and two secretaries. “It will have 20 terms of reference,” said a source. Police now believe there were only four attackers at Westgate.

Uhuru reportedly decided to visit the Recce Squad and treat them for lunch because its members were feeling unhappy after the KDF took over the Westgate siege in the afternoon Saturday, September 21, four hours after the operation began.

“He was very sorry about the turn of events but encouraged us to put that behind us and continue to defend our country as he seeks to establish facts about the attack and the operation,” said another Recce squad member.

The Recce Squad is an elite police unit trained to guard VIPs, including the President and Deputy President, and also to handle hostage cases. They were called to Westgate an hour after the attack started and, together with armed civilian reservists, managed to contain the terrorists inside Nakumatt supermarket on the ground floor by late afternoon.

Together with the civilians, Recce rescued hundreds of people from inside the mall. However they were then ordered out by KDF and other security agencies who took almost an hour to get going.

“Before the changeover there was a friendly exchange of fire between us and KDF. KDF shot dead one of our officers who had done so much earlier and in retaliation our officers also shot dead three KDF officers. This incident caused a lot of tension and we left Westgate in protest,” said a Recce officer who was at Westgate.

Police, intelligence and the army have been engaging in blame games over the four-day siege which wrecked Westgate and in which 80 shops were looted. Security agencies are yet to show bodies or photos of any terrorist killed in the siege.

Some international forensic teams who flew into Kenya to assist in finding out exactly what happened returned home last week in frustration after they were not allowed full access to the mall.

Police now believe there may have just been four attackers after scrutinising CCTV footage although other attackers may have sneaked out in the early stages pretending to be shoppers.

CCTV footage from the Queensway branch of Barclays Bank on September 6 showed one attacker depositing money into the account of a man who sold the vehicle KAS 575X used to ferry the terrorists to the malls.

Hussein Abdi was also seen in the CCTV recovered from the Westgate mall on September 21. He is a former GSU policeman sacked in 2010 after being involved in violent robbery.

Abdi, from Mandera, reportedly travelled to Somalia last year and returned in January 2013. He is the tall man seen on CCTV firing at security agents with an AK47.

Later he is seen limping and taking phone calls. Phone records provided by mobile phone companies indicated that Abdi called several numbers in Dadaab and Somalia during the siege.

CID have also zeroed in on Mohammed Hussein whose ID was used to register the number used to make the calls to Somalia and Dadaab. Hussein was seen with Abdi in the Barclays CCTV but not in the footage recovered from the mall.

Police now believe that the attack was planned in Norway and Somalia. They have written to the Norwegian embassy in Nairobi seeking its assistance in locating a Somali refugee who now resides in Norway.

Sources said the man flew to Kenya in August and headed to Somalia through Garissa. “He is very well known in Daadab.We believe that part of the planning was done at the camp” said a detective.

So far, 40 people have recorded statements with the Anti Terror Police Unit. Only a 16-year- old Form Three student from Murang’a Road Secondary School who was arrested on Tuesday and a driver Ali Hassan Gitonga have been detained.

Yesterday Gilgil police said they were holding a mobile phone dealer caught with seven mobile phones allegedly looted from Westgate mall.