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Kenya asked security questions after attack

Kenya is facing questions as to whether it received advanced warnings ahead of shooting.

Smoke rises from the beseiged Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi following a loud explosion. Kenyan security forces were locked in a fierce, final battle with Somali Islamist gunmen. Picture: AFP

NAIROBI - Kenya is "at war" with Islamist militants who attacked a Nairobi shopping mall, the government said on Saturday as it faced questions about whether it had received advance intelligence warnings of the deadly strike.

A week after the raid on the Westgate shopping centre that killed 67 civilians and police and was claimed by the Somali militant group al Shabaab, the government has been trying to reassure Kenyans that it can protect them from further attacks.

Three Kenyan newspapers reported on Saturday that a year ago the country's National Intelligence Service (NIS) had warned of the presence of suspected al Shabaab militants in Nairobi and that they were planning to carry out "suicide attacks" on the Westgate mall and on a church in the city.

In front-page stories, the Nation, Standard and Star newspapers questioned whether the Kenyan government and military may have failed to act on this and more recent warnings this year by local and foreign intelligence services.

"It is not a 'yes' or 'no' answer," Mutea Iringo, principal secretary in the Ministry of Interior, told Reuters.

"Every day, we get intelligence and action is taken as per that intelligence and many attacks averted. But the fact that you get the intelligence does not mean something cannot happen," the senior official added.

"What we are saying is that we are at war, and that every day some young Kenyan is being radicalised by al Shabaab to kill Kenyans," Iringo said, calling on citizens across the east African nation to be alert and cooperate with authorities.

The newspaper reports emerged ahead of a meeting on Monday of the Kenyan parliament's defence and foreign relations committee which is expected to ask security chiefs how much warning they had of Saturday's assault.

In the mall attack that extended into a four-day siege, gunmen fired on shoppers and tossed grenades leaving a trail of victims and shocking Kenya and the world. Al Shabaab said it acted in revenge against Kenyan troops who have been fighting it in neighbouring Somalia for two years.

Britain's government said on Saturday a sixth British national had been identified among those killed at the mall. French and Canadian nationals also died.

The Star quoted another NIS briefing in February warning of a gun and grenade attack in Kenya similar to a three-day killing spree by militants in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.

In an editorial, the Standard said the reports pointed to "obvious" security lapses. "It is becoming increasingly apparent that the country's top security organs may have received adequate briefing on imminent terror threats," it said.

"Why they did not act in time to save the needless deaths at Westgate is astonishing and dumbfounding," it added.

The possibility that al Shabaab, which has carried out previous smaller gun and grenade attacks in Kenya, may be planning further high-profile strikes presents a major security challenge for President Uhuru Kenyatta, elected in March.

But the incident has also rallied foreign support for him as he confronts charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He denies charges of orchestrating violence following Kenya's disputed 2007 elections.