Westgate security

Private Security Regulatory Authority Director-General Fazul Mohamed pins a badge on guard Kageha Lukayu’s uniform at Junction Mall in Nairobi on September 21, 2023.

| Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

How terror attack changed security set-up at Westgate

The September 21, 2013 attack at Westgate Mall left the iconic shopping centre extensively damaged, forcing it to close down for renovations ahead of its reopening on July 18, 2015.

For the last 10 years, the management of the mall has been reluctant to provide details of the security changes effected over time.

Until yesterday, that is, when the mall hosted a brief event in honour of the people who were killed that fateful Saturday afternoon.

At the event, Israel-based security company International Reserve Group (IRG) demonstrated how it uses its sniffer dogs to search suspicious small luggage and cars and detect explosives.

Westgate attack

A police officer tries to secure an area inside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi during the terrorists attack of September 21, 2013.

Photo credit: File | AFP

The firm was brought on board when the mall reopened in 2015, replacing a local security firm that was in charge at the time of the attack.

It complements security agencies in daily patrol and surveillance of the mall to a degree that maintains a constant flow of high-end customers and inspires confidence among workers, some of whom told Nation they no longer live in fear of a repeat attack.

“I am sure that such an incident cannot happen again, the security is tight,” a supermarket attendant at Carrefour said.

Another said she did not experience the attack in 2013 but is comfortable eking out a living at the mall.

“Maybe if I did, the trauma would have affected me but, no, I have no fear at all,” she said. Surveillance at the mall does not begin at the entrance, approaching vehicles and persons are marked from a distance and monitored for any suspicious activities.

Abdul Haji

Mr Abdul Haji rescuing a child at Westgate Mall in Nairobi during the terror attack of September 21, 2013.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Armed customers have to provide proof of gun ownership, with those that fail to do so sent to the regular police officers and paramilitary General Service Unit personnel deployed at the mall on a daily basis.

A spot check at other malls including Thika Road Mall, The Imaara and The Junction also showed that regular screening of customers by private guards and increased CCTV monitoring of movements was ongoing within and around the malls.

Interior Principal Secretary Raymond Omollo said the country will never forget the 67 lives that were lost in the Westgate attack even as efforts to ensure such incidents do not recur in future get bolstered by modernising equipment, recruiting more security personnel and advanced training for, and adequate arming of, the police.

Westgate attack

Anti-Terrorism Police Unit officers outside the Milimani Law Courts, Nairobi, on October 6 where three men accused of aiding the Westgate Mall raid in 2013 were to know their fate.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

“The events surrounding the siege shook our country to its core and left an indelible mark on our soil. But over and above that, the aftermath served as a testament to our collective strength and resilience, and taught us invaluable lessons on vigilance, preparedness, emergency response and the importance of never lowering our guard against any threat to our public security and safety,” said the PS.

Part of these efforts lie with the inclusion of private security guards in the national security infrastructure, a programme that started with the formalisation of private security organisations and the issuance of unique identifiers that enable easy recognition by members of the public and government officials.

Westgate attack

Kenyan soldiers take cover after heavy gunfire near Westgate mall in Nairobi on September 23, 2013. 

Photo credit: File | AFP

According to Mr Fazul Mohamed, the Private Security Regulatory Authority director-general, the country has close to a million security guards who the government can rely on as readily available intelligence resources.

“This will enhance intelligence gathering, information sharing, crime detection and deterrence, crime scene protection and the collection and preservation of evidence,” he said.

Westgate attack

Kenyan security personnel evacuate shoppers from Nakumatt Supermarket at Westgate Mall in Nairobi during the terrorists attack of September 21, 2013.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Additionally, a policy framework is being developed to make it mandatory for guards to undergo National Youth Service (NYS) training before being employed by security firms.

“The NYS programmes embody security, intelligence and paramilitary training that provides a prepared pool of highly competent, screened and vetted soldiers with a high level of discipline that translates directly into the requirements for entry into the private security industry,” Mr Fazul said.

“It’s time for us to understand that our religion and beliefs should not come in the way of humanity. Whoever kills a soul has killed humanity and whoever preserves a soul has preserved humanity,” Mr Sheikh Muhammad Khan said at the remembrance ceremony.