Africa

Kenyan minister evades questions on Westgate warnings

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Media captionJoseph Ole Lenku said the police would continue to makes arrests

Kenya's interior minister has refused to answer questions about possible intelligence failings in the wake of the Westgate shopping centre attack.

Joseph Ole Lenku said intelligence issues were confidential and would not be discussed in public.

The questions arose after Kenyan papers reported that the intelligence agency had issued warnings a year ago.

Some 67 people were killed after al-Shabab militants stormed the Westgate centre on 21 September.

In a news conference on Sunday, Mr Lenku confirmed the death toll but refused to give the nationalities or identities of the suspects being held.

But he said there had been one more arrest on Sunday, bringing the total now held to 10, with five militants killed in the operation.

He said three people suspected of looting from the shopping centre had also been arrested.

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Media captionThe BBC's Karen Allen: How siege unfolded

Mr Lenku said the government believed there were no hostages left to be found in the centre "unless forensic evidence shows otherwise".

He also denied any of the militants could have escaped through a tunnel at the centre.

The minister also repeated Kenya's anger at a US decision to reissue a travel advisory that urges Americans to take precautions following the attack.

Mr Lenku said it was "unfriendly" and "counter-productive in the fight against global terrorism".

Parliamentary questions

Kenyan newspapers have reported that the country's National Intelligence Service warned a year ago of the presence of suspected al-Shabab militants in Nairobi and that they were planning suicide attacks, including on the Westgate shopping centre.

However, while Mr Lenku dismissed questions about the government failing to act on intelligence linked to the Westgate attack, a senior interior ministry official earlier denied that ministers had ignored intelligence reports on possible militant attacks.

The official told the BBC the government received intelligence daily, that action was taken and that many attacks had been averted.

Image caption A special prayer service was held on Sunday in Kibera, Kenya, for the Westgate victims

A parliamentary committee which is meeting on Monday has signalled it intends to explore the issue of such warnings.

Briefings were given to the ministers "informing them of increasing threat of terrorism and of plans to launch simultaneous attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa around September 13 and 20, 2013", Kenya's Daily Nation had quoted counter-terrorism reports as saying.

The warnings were first made in January, according to the newspaper, and again from the beginning of September.

A dossier from the National Intelligence Service - amounting to more than 8,000 pages according to Kenya's Standard newspaper - also suggests the Israelis issued warnings that buildings owned by its citizens could be attacked between 4 and 28 September.

Westgate is partly Israeli-owned.

The Daily Nation reports that Kenyan intelligence had established that al-Shabab leaders had begun singling out Westgate and the Holy Family Basilica for attack early this year.

Government figures said to have received the intelligence briefings include Mr Lenku, Treasury Minister Julius Rotich, Foreign Affairs Minister Amina Mohammed, Defence Minister Raychelle Omamo and Kenya Defence Forces chief Julius Karangi.

The head of the National Intelligence Service, Michael Gichangi, is due to be questioned by Kenyan MPs on Monday.

The head of the parliamentary defence committee, Ndung'u Gethenji, told the BBC on Friday that "people need to know the exact lapses in the security system that possibly allowed this event to take place".

He also said they needed to understand "the anatomy of the entire rescue operation" amid allegations of confusion over who was in charge.

Al-Shabab, a Somali Islamist group, said it carried out the attack on the upmarket mall in retaliation for Kenya's military involvement in Somalia.

Security sources have told the BBC that the militants hired a shop there in the weeks leading up to the siege.

This gave them access to service lifts at Westgate enabling them to stockpile weapons and ammunition. Having pre-positioned weapons they were able to re-arm quickly and repel the security forces.

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