Nairobi – Kenyan special forces were not deployed to the Garissa university massacre in which 148 people died for at least seven hours, reports said on Sunday, as the government defended the response.
Alarm bells rang at Kenya’s elite recce company in Nairobi as soon as the first reports of Thursday’s pre-dawn attack emerged.
But it took until about 14:00 for the main team to reach the attack site in the northeastern town of Garissa, Kenya’s major Nation newspaper said, noting that the first plane to the city carried the interior minister and police chief.
The Nation wrote in its editorial on Sunday: “This is negligence on a scale that borders on the criminal,” recalling how survivors said “the gunmen, who killed scores of students with obvious relish, took their time”.
Some journalists based in Nairobi who drove the 365km to Garissa after hearing the first reports of the attack arrived before the special forces, who came by air.
The Standard newspaper’s editorial cartoon accused security forces of sleeping on the job, depicting a snake labelled “terror threat” waking a snoring security officer with a bite, as a dog barks, “too little, too late”.
Interior Minster Joseph Nkaissery has said the attack was “one of those incidents which can surprise any country,” while President Uhuru Kenyatta paid tribute to the three police and three soldiers killed, who paid “the ultimate price in their selfless service to Kenya.”
But newspapers on Sunday were deeply critical of the government response.
The day-long siege that began long before dawn in Garissa, close to the border with Somalia, claimed 148 lives, including 142 students, three police officers and three soldiers.
“It… beggars belief that many of the failures that were witnessed during the Westgate siege – including the late deployment of specialised police – were repeated in Garissa,” the Nation added.
The massacre was Kenya’s deadliest attack since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi.
But Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed defended the response, saying on Saturday that “fighting terrorism… is like being a goalkeeper. You have 100 saves, and nobody remembers them. They remember that one that went past you.”
Interior ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka also dismissed the criticism.
“If you look at how we responded it was not bad at all, say, compared to Westgate,” he told the Nation.