The response by security agencies to the raid on the Dusit complex appeared purposeful, tactical and better coordinated than the disastrous, chaotic and shambolic 2013 Westgate and 2015 Garissa University terror attacks.
However, a story by The Guardian newspaper on January 16 with the headline “Kenya received warnings of imminent Al-Shabaab terror attack” puts a damper on the otherwise brave response all round.
Quoting anonymous Western officials, the British newspaper wrote that Kenyan security and intelligence apparatuses were last year tipped that “Al-Shabaab was planning terrorist attacks on high-profile targets in the East African country around Christmas and the new year”.
The warning has clearly come to pass. But while sharing of such intelligence between allies in the war on terror is common, unless it is specific and credible, it is often impossible to action.
In Kenya, for example, because of its strategic importance in the region, there are numerous ‘high-profile’ targets for Al-Shabaab could pick from, making it impractical to carry out surveillance, let alone protect, all of them.
A series of terror attacks across Europe by ISIS or its sympathisers in the past few years suggest that, even with sophisticated and vast intelligence and policing resources, no country can offer its citizens absolute protection from the terrorism menace.
But there is still a lot we can learn from previous incidents to refine and enhance our response to terror attacks, in the form of a cohesive and wide ranging counter-terrorism strategy.
The government should work with construction industry stakeholders to come up with building design standards for mass public access facilities and venues such as shopping centres, incorporating practical and rapidly deployable isolation features during an attack.
From media accounts, such features prevented the terrorists from freely roaming and executing their mission at Dusit, potentially saving many lives and buying security units time to evacuate hundreds of hostages. Constant monitoring of surveillance cameras and prompt reporting of suspicious activity or an attack should be part of the conversation.
I have never been an advocate of arming private security personnel. But the terror attacks present a strong case for arming guards who man critical mass public access facilities and venues. Such a strategy must, however, be well planned, piloted and reviewed before any large-scale roll-out.
Border security and surveillance should be bolstered with technology such as sensors and drones. Our porous border with Somalia should be constantly monitored.
One of the most important cogs of any counter-terrorism strategy is a deliberate and systematic effort by the government to directly address local root causes of terrorism which Al-Shabaab manipulates to involve Kenyans in the planning, aiding or staging of the terror attacks. They include land dispossession and systemic and systematic marginalisation of whole groups of Kenyans.
The double-pronged approach will certainly blunt Al-Shabaab’s powerful recruitment strategy.