Sep 24th 2013, 9:43 by D.H. | NAIROBI
ONE of the victims of the siege at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, as it entered a fourth day, was the credibility of Kenyan authorities.
A “final assault” that police said was under way on the night of September 22nd failed to materialise. Official claims that “most of the hostages” had been freed turned out to false. Constant reassurances that the operation was almost over followed the next day. Even as Kenyan soldiers were fighting battles with heavily armed militants loyal to the Somali Islamists of the Shabab, officials claimed the mall was largely under control.
That pretence was exploded on the afternoon of September 23rd when a series of deafening blasts shook the battered shopping centre and a column of black smoke billowed from its roof. When the fighting had died down by the evening, Kenya’s police chief, David Kimaiyo, took to Twitter to declare: “We’re not here to feed the attackers with pastries but to finish and punish them.” This was followed by updates from police and government officials declaring victory. But those claims proved premature, too: the next morning blasts and gunfire once again rocked the Westlands suburb in the Kenyan capital.
A national disaster-management authority was set up in the wake of the fire that devastated Nairobi’s airport in August, to manage the various government agencies in emergencies. But this has become just another voice issuing official statements, often contradicting other departments.
Kenya’s foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, told PBS, America’s public broadcaster, on September 23rd that one of the dead militants was a British woman. Yet the interior ministry on the same evening said all of the attackers recovered from the mall were male. Similarly confusing claims have been made about the fate of the hostages, their number and locations.
Such crossed wires are perhaps understandable in the face of the worst terrorist attack the east African country has experienced since the American embassy bombings in 1998, but the government will need its credibility more than ever once the crisis does come to an end. That is when it will seek to assure investors, tourists and ex-pat workers that Kenya is safe and that the security services can protect them.
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