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Kenya needs better security coordination after Westgate: report

Shoppers and shop assistants raise their hands as they are escorted to safety while armed police hunt for gunmen who went on a shooting spre
Shoppers and shop assistants raise their hands as they are escorted to safety while armed police hunt for gunmen who went on a shooting spre

By Joseph Akwiri

MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - A Kenyan parliamentary inquiry has called for a new body to coordinate between intelligence and security agencies after blaming poor communication and inadequate preparations for failures in handling the Westgate shopping mall attack.

At least 67 people were killed in September when gunmen from the Somali militant group al Shabaab attacked a luxury shopping mall in the capital, tossing grenades, spraying shoppers with bullets and holding parts of the building for four days.

The report by the parliamentary inquiry, seen by Reuters, said security services were warned about an impending attack but "there was general laxity among the police over terror alerts" in the run up to the September 21 raid.

It also noted that the crack police RECCE unit had cornered the four gunmen in one place earlier in the raid, but lost the advantage because of poor coordination when the army moved in.

Al Shabaab militants have threatened to orchestrate further Westgate-style attacks if Kenyan troops do not withdraw from Somalia where they are battling Islamist insurgents as part of an African Union peacekeeping force.

U.S., British and Israeli advisers have provided training to Kenyan security agencies, spurred on by worries about the spread of militant Islam from neighboring Somalia.

The report called for a new "Directorate of National Security, with membership drawn from all the security agencies, to ensure intelligence gathering, information sharing and implementation is carried out".

The report and recommendations will be discussed by parliament and, if approved, the government is bound to act.

The report said the poor level of preparedness has left Kenya "susceptible to terror attacks" by Somali militants.

"Security forces intelligence and capacity has been seen to be ineffective allowing terrorists to move about freely, find safe havens, and establish logistical hubs in the country where they plan and execute attack undiscovered," it said.

"The response mechanism of the security forces has also been slow and lacking coordination to the extent that most of the damage is already done by the time the situation is contained."

The parliamentary report said 29 terrorist-related attacks took place in Kenya since the country's troops went to Somalia in 2011. During those attacks 140 people were killed, including eight security officers, and more than 390 people wounded.

Al Shabaab said it staged the Westgate attack in retaliation for Kenya's involvement in Somalia.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Edmund Blair and Andrew Heavens)

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