Police ‘thwarted’ Westgate-type Al-Shabaab attack

Al-Shabaab fighters gather in Elasha Biyaha, in the Afgoei Corridor, after a demonstration to support the merger of Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda on February 13, 2012. FILE PHOTO | MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB

Al-Shabaab fighters gather in Elasha Biyaha, in the Afgoei Corridor, after a demonstration to support the merger of Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda on February 13, 2012. FILE PHOTO | MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB |  AFP

By FRED MUKINDA

An Al-Shabaab death squad on a terrorist mission in Nairobi was last week intercepted and a major attack averted, according to a government intelligence report.

The terrorists, whose number is not disclosed in a document seen by the Sunday Nation, were sent by Al-Shabaab commander Adan Garar alias Adan Ahmed Isaaq, the Westgate attack mastermind, before he was killed on March 12 when his vehicle was hit by a missile fired from a United States forces drone in Somalia.

The killing was reported by the Daily Nation the following day, but the Pentagon, the US military headquarters, only confirmed the deadly strike last Thursday.

A Pentagon statement said he “was a key operative responsible for coordinating Al-Shabaab’s external operations” and was “connected” to the Westgate massacre.

What was not revealed is the part played by the Kenyan security agencies in ensuring the strike was successful.

“Prior to his death about a week ago, Garar had dispatched operatives to carry out a fresh attack in Nairobi in retaliation for the arrests of several Al-Shabaab combatants and security agents’ operations that have neutralised a number of terrorist cells. Kenyan security agents arrested Garar’s death squad and their evil plans were once again thwarted,” according to the intelligence report.

It does not identify the areas that were targeted by the terrorists, but sources said an upmarket mall in Nairobi could have been on their radar.

Security agents are now looking for Garar’s cousin Abdikadir Haret who may have fled Kenya for Somalia.

Both are Somali nationals and their movements in Kenya were first known to security agencies during the Westgate attack.

‘CERTIFIED PSYCHOPATH’

Before the Westgate massacre, Garar was a “gun for hire,” and a “behind-the-scenes facilitator,” but was made an Al-Shabaab unit commander after the attack in which 71 people died and more than 250 others were injured, according to the report.

It says about him: “Garar, who was not particularly religious, was a certified psychopath known for extreme fits of anger, which would often see him shooting haphazardly whenever he flew into tantrums.”

Regarding his role in the Westgate attack on September 21, 2013, the report notes: “He sneaked into Kenya in 2012 to illegally acquire a Kenyan identification in Garissa. He was assisted by a member of Al-Shabaab cell in Garissa, Abdqadir Ahmed Buul. On his part, Buul was later to be involved in a Kariobangi matatu attack in 2013.”

The report shows his photograph, which was captured by a CCTV camera as he withdrew money from an ATM at Barclays Plaza in downtown Nairobi in September 2013, two weeks before the Westgate attack.

Investigations showed he used the cash to purchase a vehicle that was used to transport the Westgate attackers.

As the attack was in progress, Garar travelled to Mandera before entering Somalia, “where they were in constant communication with attackers during the siege,” the report says.

Though he was later killed in a US forces strike, Kenyan agents were involved.

The report says: “Successful targeting of the drone hit on Garar was accomplished with tactical backing and intelligence support of Kenyan security agencies.”

His associates are also identified alongside their photographs.

They include Ms Ladhan Hokitu, who was based in Mandera and helped sneak in the weapons used at Westgate.

She is being held in Somalia and another associate, Salim Abubakar Kitonga, is facing trial in Kenya over the massacre of 64 people in Mandera last year.

KAMPALA PLOT

Garar was also linked to Abdiaziz Abdullahi Abdi and Issak Noor Ibrahim, who are facing trial in Mombasa after they were arrested in March last year while riding in a vehicle that was laden with 137-kilogramme bombs.

Investigations showed the vehicle entered Kenya through Mandera and the suspects had been in touch with Garar throughout.

Ms Hokitu bought and registered SIM cards for the suspects, the report said.

A mission to attack unidentified targets in Uganda’s capital Kampala is also disclosed in the intelligence document.

“Garar was also involved in coordinating and planning of the attack that was to take place in September last year. While he was not physically present, he ensured that suicide vests were delivered to Uganda from Mandera by his accomplice Mahat Mohamed Juma aka Zakariye. Hokitu facilitated Zakariye’s movement from Mandera to Nairobi where the vests were moved by road to Kampala. Through cooperation of Kenyan and Ugandan agencies, they were intercepted before they could be used in what would have been a very deadly attack. The suspects are in custody awaiting trial,” the report reads.

Garar is the highest-ranking Al-Shabaab commander to be killed since Ahmed Abdi Godane, the overall leader, died in a similar strike in September last year.

Kenya Defence Forces, though in Somalia, did not take part in the drone strike since rules of engagement by the Africa Union Mission in Somalia restrict the troops to Sector 2 near Kismayu on the Indian Ocean coast.

The strike happened in Sector 3 to the west where Ugandan and Ethiopian troops are deployed.

Garar was a close ally of Ahmed Omar Abu Ubeid, the current overall leader of Al-Shabaab and a member of the Shura, the inner circle of the supreme leader and the highest decision-making body.

Information about the strike was received with celebrations across Kenya’s security circles, because Garar was associated with other numerous terror activities in Kenya.

US and Kenyan forces have intensified raids since Westgate and many other commanders have been killed.

Some 4,660 Kenyan troops remain in Somalia under the aegis of the United Nations-mandated Amisom.

SUNDAY NATION

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