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Bodies of Westgate terrorists ‘are with the FBI’, says Karangi

The Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces has revealed that the United States is holding the bodies of terrorists killed during the security operation to end the siege of Westgate mall last year but refused to state where the bodies are.

Speaking during a public review of the way the September 21 terror attack was handled, General Julius Karangi on Friday said there were only four terrorists involved and all were killed as part of the security forces’ “end-game”.

“One of the media houses was only too happy to report that these fellows escaped on Saturday through a tunnel. Hear it from me; these fellows were killed on Monday morning… We finished them on Monday morning and their bodies are with the FBI somewhere,” he said.

It was the first time the security agencies were coming clean on the fate of the attackers. Although Gen Karangi and other government representatives admitted to the confusion in handling the rescue operation as well as the flow of information, he was categorical that no single government agency would handle such an incident alone in future.

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“It’s always a multi-agency operation and someone has to speak… Some of you have asked me why it took so long, I reply by asking how long it normally takes! There is no template on how long it takes,” Gen Karangi said.

The Westgate attack was the deadliest terror attack on Kenyan soil since the 1998 US embassy bombing in Nairobi. Seventy people were killed and Somali militants al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack which they argued was in retaliation to KDF’s involvement in Somalia. However, the terror group has yet to publicly admit that their attackers were killed.

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MEDIA COVERAGE OF SIEGE

Gen Karangi also gave his opinion on the media coverage during the attack at the launch of a report by the Media Council of Kenya on how journalists covered Westgate.

The report admits that journalists, in their bid to report from the scene, breached the Code of Ethics by publishing graphic pictures of the dead and injured.

“The coverage of Westgate became a soap opera, a reality show. But the fight against terrorism is never a soap opera,” said Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo, adding: “I am not blaming the media for this, I am just saying that, as a nation, what drives us? It was a first of its kind and we were learning. Mistakes tend to happen but we must accept that there is a conflation of interests in reporting crises. What we have to do is reflect on what we did.”

“Personally, as the Chief of Defence Forces, I shall eternally be thankful (for the conduct of journalists) as far as our operation in Somalia is concerned, not so with Westgate,” said Gen Karangi.

But the media owners defended themselves, arguing they acted in good faith.

“I think there were mistakes that were done but those mistakes were done in the spirit of wanting to do good,” argued Linus Gitahi, the Chief Executive Officer of the Nation Media Group and a representative of the Media Owners Association.

“Overall, we are delighted with the coverage. We are delighted that we were as close as possible to the issues. It was not all gloom. There were many things that were done well.”

To avoid the confusion that was witnessed during the Westgate attack when there were contradictory statements on the status of hostages and whether the siege was over, the government pledged to set up a media centre to coordinate the flow of information during crises. The centre is expected to cost between Sh200 million and Sh300 million and will be operational from April 2014.-nation.co.ke

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