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Report details how terrorists outsmarted security system to execute Garissa University attack

Sunday November 22, 2015

By Alphonce Shiundu 

NAIROBI: Kenya’s spy chief secretly admitted that the Al Shabaab intelligence wing, the Amniyaat, outwitted the country’s security system ahead of the killing of university students in Garissa in April.

In a confidential report filed with the National Assembly’s Committee on Administration and National Security, the spy chief revealed an elaborate plan of surveillance, intelligence collection, stockpiling of weapons and movement of militants which all culminated in an attack carried out with near-military precision.

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The Director General of the National Intelligence Service Major Gen (Rtd) Philip Kameru identified three top Al Shaabab operators as the masterminds of the attacks in which 155 Kenyans, among them 147 university students, died.

“The attack was sanctioned by Abdi Muse aka Habil Al Somali and coordinated by Mustaf Ato and Maalim Abbas,” Kameru told the MPs.
These investigative details are contained in the report of the House committee tabled in the National Assembly four days ago as Kenya went on high alert after the attack in Paris, France.

The NIS boss said the attackers spent two months gathering intelligence in Garissa, identifying the targets and moving weapons. When they were ready, they even brought in two of the attackers undetected, stayed in a hotel for five days and four nights before they struck that morning of April 2, 2015.

Though the NIS got wind of the plot and even issued multiple alerts to the police and the county administration to step up security patrols, a terrible breakdown in command, low numbers for deployment and communication failure conspired to expose students at Garissa University College to the militants.


The spy chief noted that a militant named Maalim Badi, an associate of Ato, the coordinator of the attacks, mapped the targets and “shared the outcome of the surveillance with Ato in early March, 2015.” After interrogating the spy chief to get the details of the movement of weapons for hours, the MPs have put together a matrix.

“... in mid-March 2015, Mustaf Ato sent money to a facilitator in Garissa to obtain weapons and ammunition from Jilib.

The facilitator used two associates of Mustaf Ato named Hidig and Abu Ali to transport the weapons to Mandera. Hidig then assigned four individuals, Sahal Diriye Hussein, Mohamed Abdi Abikar, Hassan Aden Hassan and Omar Dahir to ferry the weapons to Garissa,” the MPs concluded in their report after hours of listening to the spy chief.

Hassan and Abikar are indicted in the report as having moved the weapons from Mandera to Garissa. Jilib is a town in Somalia on the road between Kismayu and Mogadishu, and has been a haven of Al Shabaab attacks. Of the four facilitators, only Sahal Diriye, who spies said was based in Garissa, has been arrested. Omar Dahir, NIS said, escaped to Somalia on April 3, just a day after the attacks.

The report added: “On March 24, 2015, the first pair of attackers led by Khaled Hassan Issack aka Jafar arrived in Mandera. They then proceeded to Garissa on March 26, 2015. By March 31, 2015 all the four attackers assembled in Garissa. They left their abode on April 2, 2015 and entered Garissa University College between 05:00 and 05:30 hours”.

And even after the terrorists struck, the police radios were not enough to coordinate a response and some of the police and military bosses on the ground were forced to use cellphones, hampering the operation because the first step in such a situation is usually to jam the mobile signals.

“Communication among the security officers involved in the rescue operation remained a challenge as there were no sufficient Radios/ Motorolas that could be used by all officers especially the AP and RDU for command and control. The commander relied on their cell phones to communicate,” reads the report put together by MPs after interviewing major players including Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery, Kameru, the regional security team and the administrators of the Moi University Campus.

The investigation records that when reports filtered of an impending attack, the management summoned all students “to sensitise the them to be vigilant.” On the eve of the attack, April 1, the committee heard, a text message was received by some students warning them that an attack was imminent “but this was taken as an April fool’s day joke.”

The location of the masterminds and the militants is suspected to be in the unmanned region on the Kenya/Somali border near Mandera.

“The area was reported to be under the command of the Ethiopian Forces serving in AMISOM. However, the Ethiopian soldiers are not actively engaged in the region making it a safe haven for the militia,” Mohamud Ali Saleh, the regional coordinator in North Eastern told the MPs. It was widely reported, and even foreign governments issued new alerts that there was a likelihood of an Al Shabaab strike in Kenya based on intelligence reports. The NIS boss told MPs that he issued five alerts warning of impending attacks. But it appears, very little was done.


The verdict of the committee is that the County Security Committee and the university managers failed to do “proper security surveys... in the wake of intelligence reports on possible terror attacks.”

“Had the surveys been done, security gaps such as heavily grilled hostel windows would have been identified and remedial measures instituted to mitigate the effects of any terrorist attacks,” the MPs said. The leader of the attack is listed as the Abdirahim Abdullahi Mohamed aka Ahmed, the University of Nairobi trained lawyer, who left the university without graduating in 2013. Jafar is also named. The others are listed with only one name Muhamad and Zarqawi.

The first warning came on February 24, another followed on March 3, 2015, then two reports were filed on March 30 and finally one was filed on April 1, 2015. The intelligence reports were specific revealing the targets were Naivas Supermarket, Garissa Teachers Training College and Garissa University College, and one Situation Report warned that there were ”Al Shabaab operatives who were within the vicinity” ready to execute attacks.
The reports, the committee noted, were circulated to all County Security Intelligence Committee members.

The recommendation, for instance, after the March 3 warning was that the “security personnel guarding the targets... be increased”. But this was not adhered to. “When the attackers struck, it was suspected that only two police officers were guarding the university. The other two may have run away or may not have been on duty allowing the attackers to perpetuate the killings undeterred,” the MPs noted in their report.

Major General (rtd) Kameru’s revelations before the committee came as Police Spokesperson Charles Owino warned that Al Shabaab militants were looking for opportunities to strike. Mr Owino said the new intelligence showed that the Al Shabaab have “sneaked into Mandera, Wajir and Garissa”.


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