Nairobi (AFP) – Kenya’s interior minister on Thursday admitted that intelligence was ignored and the security response botched regarding the Islamist massacre of nearly 150 people at Garissa university in April.
Security should have been “beefed up” but was not, and once the attack began a “lack of coordination” undermined the response, Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery told a parliamentary committee.
“There was lack of coordination on the side of the officers, there was intelligence that this place was going to be attacked,” Nkaissery said.
Militants from Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels killed 148 people during the assault on the university in northeast Kenya on April 2. It was the group’s deadliest attack to date.
Student survivors said notices had been put up around the campus warning that an attack was possible. One student told AFP the notices were not taken seriously because they were posted on April Fool’s, the day before the attack.
When the four masked gunmen struck, only unarmed security guards stood between the attackers and their victims.
The intelligence and security failings are reminiscent of Kenya’s botched response to the 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall, when prior intelligence was also ignored. During the attack itself a lack of clarity over chain of command and coordination between forces inside the mall led to Kenyan soldiers and police firing on each other leaving one member of the elite Recce Company dead.
Appearing before a parliamentary security committee, Nkaissery — who was appointed interior minister in December after his predecessor was sacked following a series of deadly Shebab attacks — defended his ministry, instead blaming regional and county security officials for the failings.
– Officials already suspended –
He pointed the finger of blame at county commissioner Njenga Miiri, who was transferred to Garissa from his previous posting in Lamu, which has suffered a series of armed raids by Shebab fighters.
“I think we transferred a problem,” Nkaissery said. “[Miiri] received this information and did not act on it. It happened again like it happened in Lamu, and that is why we have interdicted him.”
Miiri was among nine civil servants and police officers suspended earlier this month pending an investigation into suspected negligence relating to the Garissa attack.
Nkaissery said that because the busy university hostels were “congested” and had bars on the windows it was difficult for students to escape and for soldiers and the specially trained Recce police unit to get inside, meaning more lives were lost.
The first security forces on the scene of the 16-hour long assault and siege were members of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF). Nkaissery said it only became clear hours into the attack that the soldiers were not up to the job.
“We had the special KDF force in Garissa, we thought they could have tackled the terrorists, but it was difficult, he said, adding that the elite Recce Company was summoned at 10:30am, five hours after the attack began.
The special unit took hours to arrive because a Kenya police plane was not available to transport them as it was returning from the coastal town of Mombasa with relatives of the Police Air Wing commander.