NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya's lead counterterrorism agency is working to stop another Westgate Mall-style terrorist attack — that many here believe Somali militants will try again — on a shoe-string budget: The Anti-Terror Police Unit in Nairobi has just $735 to spend this month.
Documents seen by The Associated Press show that even after the September attack by al-Shabab on an upscale mall in Nairobi that killed at least 67 people, the country's top anti-terror security force is allocated only around $2,205 for its operations — for maintenance and fuel for cars, travel expenses and office supplies — in January, February and March.
By comparison, a Kenyan member of parliament earns about $45,000 in salary and allowances during a three-month period. Kenya is facing a budgetary crisis brought on by high salaries paid to some government employees, its government has said. President Uhuru Kenyatta and his vice president each pledged last week to take a 20 percent pay cut, and Kenyatta is urging other top government officials to do the same, saying the country cannot afford to pay so much in salaries.
Last week Kenyatta said more resources will be allocated to the police and military. "For a long time, the security sector has not been given the attention it deserves. We are changing that," the president said.
The anti-terror unit is struggling to do its work because of limited funds, said a security official from the police headquarters, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to share the information. The limited budget makes preventing another attack difficult, he said.
Despite the budget figures AP saw in official government documents, the spokesman for Kenya's Internal Security Ministry, Mwenda Njoka, denied that Nairobi's anti-terror unit had been allocated only $2,205 for the quarter. He did not provide any alternate figures.
Combating terrorism is a capital-intensive exercise because of the time and manpower needed to try to learn the identity of would-be attackers, the security official said. Somali terrorists are financing their terror attacks with more funds than Kenya is spending on the Anti-Terror Police Unit, the official said.
He cited an incident in September 2012 in which police stopped a planned attack on parliament. A suspect was arrested in a house in a Somali section of Nairobi with four suicide vests, two improvised explosive devices, four AK-47 rifles and ammunition, the official said. The suspect told police that he had been given about $82,000 to carry out surveillance and launch the attack.
The official said the suspect claimed he had once been arrested by police who noticed his surveillance activities but was released after paying a $470 bribe. A police spokesman has previously described the bribe-taking culture among Kenya police as "deep and wide."
A second security official who also insisted on anonymity said the anti-terror unit does not have bullet proof vests and in some Kenyan jurisdictions along the border with Somalia known as terrorism hotspots the anti-terror unit does not have single police car.
Alamin Kimathi, a human rights activist who has been the biggest critic of the anti-terror police, believes the unit is heavily supported by the West and that this funding affects its priorities. More often the unit's work is driven by a Western agenda, he said. "He who pays the piper calls the tune," Kimathi said.
Human rights activists often accuse the anti-terror unit of killing suspects whom they can't successfully prosecute. Human rights groups said 18 people suspected of having links to terror networks had either been executed or disappeared in 2012; 13 people suffered the same fate in 2013.
Kimathi said the anti-terror unit requires more funding for criminal intelligence gathering, training, forensics and equipment. He said some of the excesses blamed on the special unit can be attributed to a lack of funds. "When you don't feed the dog, it will turn around and bite you," he said.
The U.S. and U.K. only give material support to the anti-terror unit, such as vehicles, equipment and training, but does not give financial assistance, the security officials said. Kenya is one of the top five global recipients of State Department anti-terrorism funding, which supports border and coastal security and law enforcement programs, according to a September report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service titled "U.S.-Kenya Relations: Current Political and Security Issues."
In fiscal year 2013 a U.S.-Kenyan law enforcement cooperation program known as the Diplomatic Security Anti-terrorism Assistance program had a budget of $7.75 million, which is divided among multiple security services in Kenya and goes toward training and equipment.
The Anti-Terror Police Unit was formed in 2003 shortly after al-Qaida in 2002 bombed an Israeli-owned hotel in the coastal city of Mombasa, killing more than a dozen people, while also nearly simultaneously attempting to bring down an Israeli plane taking off at Mombasa International Airport. Those attacks took place four years after al-Qaida orchestrated the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people, including a dozen Americans.
Police officers in Kenya are poorly paid, which officials acknowledge contributes to the bribe-taking culture. Kenya is attempting to reform the National Police Service to redeem its sullied reputation as the most corrupt institution in the country and consistent allegations of human rights abuses.